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Delayed Response: The Art of Waiting from the Ancient to the Instant World

Jason Farman. Yale Univ., $28 (232p) ISBN 978-0-300-22567-9

In this study of the utility of waiting, media studies scholar Farman explores the modes, ideas, and technologies that enable “time to be visible.” At first, the book’s theme feels forced, a way to connect the author’s unconnected findings and visits—to Civil War battlegrounds, a California library’s collection of correspondence from American soldiers in various wars, and the British National Archive’s collection of wax seals, among other places. Eventually, as these investigations accumulate, they do begin to cohere. In the ancient world, a wax seal identified the sender and enabled the received to know whether the message had been opened; now technology enables the sender of a text message to know if it has been opened. Pneumatic tubes once served as the mechanism for instant messaging in New York City, a system replicated (rather than repurposed) for fiber-optic cables some half a century later. Wartime, Farman notes, delays or destroys a lifetime of plans; the long delays that were part of the Civil War postal system reflected that reality. These insights come along slowly, with their own kind of delay, in a book that often seems to take its time, but those who are patient with the author’s meanderings will be rewarded with paradoxical and thought-provoking ideas. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Cinematic Encounters: Interviews and Dialogues

Jonathan Rosenbaum. Univ. of Illinois, $24.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-252-08388-4

This collection of articles and interviews with filmmakers and film critics, written over many years, proves a lesser addition to the oeuvre of veteran film critic Rosenbaum (Goodbye Cinema, Hello Cinephilia). He is an excellent interviewer, but the book is only as good as his subjects, some of whom are more rewarding than others. It begins with its strongest selection, a fascinating look at Orson Welles’s abortive first film project, an adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Of the interviewees, the most intriguing are French comedic director Jacques Tati, for whom the author once worked, and American independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, interviewed upon the release of his 1995 film Dead Man. Unfortunately, some of the interviews, concerned with subjects no doubt near and dear to the interviewees, will be too obscure for the general film-enthusiast reader. Most surprisingly, this is the case in two interviews with famed French director Alain Resnais, who comes across as reticent, bordering on unengaged. Rosenbaum is a consistently strong interlocutor, but only the most hardcore of film fans need to add this book to their home libraries. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography

Andrea Warner. Greystone (PGW, dist.), $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-77164-358-0

Warner (We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the 90s and Changed Canadian Music) presents a broad overview of the career of Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Cree singer, activist, educator, and actor who was born in Saskatchewan in 1941. Sainte-Marie is known for her earnest pop songs from the 1960s through the ’90s ( among them “Universal Soldier” and “Until It’s Time for You to Go”), indigenous anthems (“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”), and her years as a performer on Sesame Street in the 1970s. Quoting extensively from interviews with Sainte-Marie, Warner writes honestly about the racism Sainte-Marie experienced growing up; her opioid addiction in the 1960s; and her claims of being blacklisted, along with other indigenous people, by American radio stations in the 1970s. She documents Sainte-Marie’s music collaborations (she recently recorded with Canadian throat singer Tanya Tagaq); her Native American school curriculum, the Cradleboard Teaching Project, which helps raise self-esteem; and her receiving an Academy Award for best original song (“Up Where We Belong,” performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes). While Sainte-Marie’s voice shines through—funny, sharply incisive, never bitter—some sections feel clunky due to an overreliance on direct quotes from lengthy, unedited interview transcripts. The book feels overlong, but it’s nevertheless a heartfelt portrait. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Dirty John and Other True Stories of Outlaws and Outsiders

Christopher Goffard. Simon & Schuster, $17 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-9821-1325-4

Pulitzer Prize finalist Goffard (Snitch Jacket) succeeds in evoking the palpable struggles of the subjects of his 15 stories (the term he prefers over articles for reasons he explains in his introduction), most of which previously appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The title entry, which inspired a TV series, is the longest—a grim true-crime tale of the tragic consequences of a lonely middle-aged woman falling for someone unsuitable. Texan Debra Newell met John Meehan through an online dating site in 2014, and, despite some initial reservations and her adult children’s objections, let him move in with her; they later married. The tale unfolds like a slow-motion train wreck, as it becomes increasingly clear that Meehan is bad news, before it ends violently. Goffard makes Newell’s denials of reality understandable, and he’s also adept at making the sad stories of his other subjects sympathetic. In “Riders,” Adam Kuntz, who leads an itinerant life on the rails and resists family attempts to ground him, is especially memorable, persisting with his dangerous, insecure lifestyle even after it claims the life of someone dear to him. Goffard consistently finds the humanity in everyone as he exposes readers to darker aspects of American life. Agent: Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, Gotham Group. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World

Jordan Shapiro. Little, Brown Spark, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-43724-0

Shapiro, a coordinator of child development research at Sesame Workshop, presents a well-formulated, deeply insightful point of view on the place of technology in raising kids. Avoiding being either a Luddite or technology cheerleader, Shapiro explains that adults must still take responsibility for guiding child cognitive and social development, despite their possible discomfort at the “multidirectional, nonlinear intersection” of modern childhood and the digital world. His analysis places early-21st-century tools in the context of older concepts, showing how the game Minecraft promotes imaginative play and peer connection just as playing outside does, or how virtual locations can meaningfully and healthily provide public spaces. Shapiro works backward as well as forward, diving into the cultural history of older modes to show how they are not timeless but grounded in outdated ideas; notably, he argues the monastery-based model of school bells and quiet desks no longer matches the diversified attention required by modern workplaces. He admonishes parents and educators not to give technology “autonomy and credit,” but to treat it as a helpful tool. Placing modern child-rearing in the context of the long story of human cultural adaptation, this manual makes the challenges of screens more approachable, and the adult role in meeting them clearer. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Martha Manual: How to Do (Almost) Everything

Martha Stewart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35 (400p) ISBN 978-1-328-92732-3

Lifestyle maven Stewart (Martha’s Flowers) offers an easy-to-navigate and attractive guidebook covering a wide array of topics, from organizing the entrance to one’s home to traveling with pets. The book addresses common and several not-so-common how-to questions (“ ‘how-to’ could be my middle name,” she writes) and is—not surprisingly—exceedingly well-organized. The dozen major sections address how to “Organize,” “Fix and Maintain,” “Refresh and Embellish” (e.g., by re-covering a chair), “Clean,” “Launder,” “Craft and Create” (embroidering a pillow), “Garden and Grow,” “Host and Entertain,” “Enjoy” (hanging a hammock or practicing sun salutations), “Cook,” “Celebrate” (birthdays, etc.) and “Care for Pets.” Accompanying visuals further clarify the instructions: for example, readers will find diagrams on how to fold “oddball fitted sheets” for neat placement in a linen closet; the utilitarian “how to fix toilets” section includes a rudimentary “anatomy of a toilet” diagram—as well as the warning, “don’t panic.” “Martha Must” comments throughout amplify Stewart’s personal touch, evoking a cozy yet pragmatic mind-set (keep a basket of nonskid socks by the entrance for visitors as part of a no-shoe policy). Visually appealing and packed with inspiring ideas and lucid instructions, this delightfully useful manual will be a shoo-in for inclusion in any Stewart fan’s home library. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Inspired Houseplant: Transform Your Home with Indoor Plants from Kokedama to Terrariums and Water Gardens to Edibles

Jen Stearns. Sasquatch, $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-63217-177-1

This book will transform the mind-sets and, by extension, the surroundings of people who worry that their ministrations are murderous to houseplants. Gardener and entrepreneur Stearns, who owns a plant store in greater Seattle, proves the perfect coach for the houseplant-challenged. Her simple 101-style guide discusses the basics of potting, watering, pruning, and feeding, and wisely sticks to the basics, selecting and organizing into groups plants that will reward beginners. Those same neophytes may find challenging a number of the plant projects she offers. Enthusiastic DIY types will have the staple gun needed for the Living Herb Frame; the less well-equipped may want to stick to something simpler, like thumbtacking philodendron vines in graceful patterns on a wall. Beautiful photography of lush, plant-filled spaces convincingly makes Stearns’s points. First-time homeowners or new apartment dwellers who long for green but lack confidence in their plant-tending abilities will be greatly helped by this volume. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Gardener Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom

Edited by Nina Pick. Princeton Architectural Press, $15.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-61689-776-5

Assembling quotes from a wide variety of gardeners, including writers, philosophers, and former First Lady Michelle Obama, Pick’s anthology provides a light reading experience that can be started on any page at any time. Some quotes are short and sweet, like Thoreau’s “I have great faith in a seed,” and C.Z. Guest’s “Without flowers, I’d find life very dismal.” Others are more thought-provoking, such as Beverly Nichols’s quip that the flowers in her garden “are in their present places because they have personally informed me, in the clearest possible tones, that this is where they wish to be.” The quotes speak to the patience required of a gardener, to the beauty of planting and nourishing a living thing, and to the healing, soothing qualities a garden delivers to its caretaker. “Earth has no sorrow that earth cannot heal,” states John Muir, while Mahatma Gandhi reflects that “to forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves.” Filled with humor, reflection, and a love of plants and planting, this breezy collection may just remind horticulturalists why they seek and find solace in their gardens. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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String Frenzy: Strips, Strings and Scrappy Things! 12 More String Quilting Projects

Bonnie K. Hunter. C&T, $27.95 (96p) ISBN 978-1-61745-732-6

Hunter (Addicted to Scraps) gives new meaning to the concept of leftovers with this smart, savvy crafter’s guide to using scrap materials to piece together beautiful quilts. “Too insignificant for clothing construction, too tiny for household linens—these were the bits destined for the trash bin,” Hunter remarks about her choice of materials. Noting that quilters are a resourceful group, she writes that the foundations (the beginning material on which quilt pieces are built) used for string piecing can include muslin, printed cotton, batiste, lawn, sheet music, church bulletins, newspaper, and family letters. Hunter recommends paper foundations, as sewing straight strips of fabric across the bias of a fabric foundation can cause warping and rolling and a foundation that won’t lay flat. “Paper is sturdy in every direction, having no bias,” she counsels. With the basics out of the way, Hunter’s easy-to-understand, step-by-step instructions demonstrate how to construct such beautiful designs as Crumb Jumble and Emerald City. Short on fluff and long on useful information, this slim volume offers abundant, well-stated advice for creating unique heirloom quilts. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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30 Knit Ponchos and Capes

Rita Maassen, trans. from the German by Katharina Sokiran. Stackpole, $22.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-0-8117-3709-8

Knitwear designer Maassen presents a beautiful collection of patterns capable of inspiring experienced and advanced knitters to take their work to new levels. She features 30 designs deploying lace, cables, colorwork, bell sleeves, and other design techniques that most will find challenging but rewarding. For the experienced knitter, this book is a treasure trove of appealing ideas for one of fashion’s trendiest looks. Examples include intricate lacework in the Ava pattern, cable work for the “delicate and romantic” Mila, and Fair Isle work on the afghan-like Smilla requiring four colors, two different types of needles, and six buttons. Almost all of the patterns require circular or double-pointed needles, sometimes with several sets needed to complete one item. For example, the button-down Jaina cape requires three different sizes of circular needle, a cable needle, and a spare needle to complete the project. Others, such as the Melina and Luna, require multiple strands of different colored yarns knitted into intricate Fair Isle patterns. However, skilled knitters looking for a rewarding challenge will want to pick up this collection of runway-ready stylish garments. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/16/2018 | Details & Permalink

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