• The Book of Tea

    Okakura Kakuzo

    i loved this book when i read it several years ago, using it as a first page for the last issue of my zine pink tea (see below); it was a nice counterweight to Catch-22 to read it again now. it’s a very layered look at the history of tea and tea ceremonies, digging deeper than one may expect in such a short work.

    … it is less a book than a (sometimes political) pamphlet. Westernization, it suggests, is not all it’s cracked up to be, and in any case the West made only a feeble effort to understand the East but a vigorous effort to misrepresent and destroy it. review by Kenneth Champeon

    you can read the...more

  • Blankets

    Craig Thompson

    i thought i would be with this book — which clocks in at nearly 600 pages — for at least a few days. but then it turned out i could have breezed through it in one long sitting. it’s hard to put down and the art often takes advantage of the full page, so it reads pretty quick.

    the coming-of-age story is well-constructed; even amid the jumps back and forth between childhood and adolescence it keeps a steady forward pace. the art is incredible, graceful and lush without becoming florid.

    Craig Thompson has been receiving some grand reviews....more

  • Palestine

    Joe Sacco

    Joe Sacco spent two months in the occupied territories in 1991–1992 interviewing people and gathering stories. like Persepolis this book shows how powerful graphic novels can be with historical and political subjects. Palestine is a direct chronicle of his time there, a comic of him making the comic basically. it seems like the best way for this work to be presented as, unlike Persepolis, his is an outsider experience. that distinction is important as people occasionally turn the tables and question him about what the good is of them talking to him and other journalists, has media attention done anything for them? in Sacco’s 2001 foreword he acknowledges, “While Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded, no major outstanding issues...more

  • Persepolis

    Marjane Satrapi

    amazing memoir of growing up in iran during the islamic revolution — i was unfamiliar with iran’s history and this gives a good overview from the perspective of being a girl from a resistant family, growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s. the drawings are stark black and white, there is a lot of humor amid the painful parts. i really loved this.more

  • Fast Food Nation

    Eric Schlosser

    incredibly in-depth and well-focused, this bestseller looks at the influence of fast food in the US (and, to a certain degree, beyond). Schlosser starts with a solid foundation of the history of fast food companies and afterwards builds a framework of how the companies and the companies they control run today. only a small amount of this is about the food itself and why it’s unhealthy. most of it is really the role the fast food industry has played in the corporatization of the US — and why that is unhealthy.

    i’m impressed by the scope of this book and how neatly and securely it is nailed together. Schlosser’s gigantic research is well-narrated in plain, clear language. all that may be...more

  • Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books

    H.J. Jackson

    celia suggested this book to me a while back when i found someone’s notes in one story of a Mavis Gallant book. it is the first book to look at the history and argue for the value of writing in books.

    marking books in any way is a practice largely unaccepted for most of the books i read, since i rely so much on the library. extensive annotation (not just highlighting passages, but writing extensively in books) used to be taught as part of standard education, but once textbooks started being shared over years of students, it was no longer possible. it’s interesting how present marginalia used to be and that there are a few people who were somewhat famous...more

  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities

    Jane Jacobs

    i’ve spent the last week getting myself to the halfway point on this. it’s always a little bizarre to read non-fiction books and realize that while reading fiction, my brain must not be engaged as intensely or something, because suddenly i’ve “read” several pages and don’t remember a thing.

    this is a classic book on urban planning, published in the early 1960s. while i occasionally wish that this text was updated for today, it’s amazing how relevant it still is, without ever having been changed from its original edition. it serves as an historical record, as Jacobs uses so many examples from big cities (i. e., “Great American” — as those are the cities she has extensive knowledge on), but from the...more

  • Kafka was the Rage

    Anatole Broyard

    this claims to be a “Greenwich Village memoir,” but it didn’t give me much of a sense of greenwich village directly after WWII, perhaps because this book was never finished. the stories and perspectives are interesting, but it feels more like a series of sketches than a cohesive work.more

  • Beloved Chicago Man: Letters to Nelson Algren 1947–64

    Simone de Beauvoir

    Published as A Transatlantic Love Affair in the US

    it was bound to happen, and it was likely to be during the summer, that i would find many distractions from reading. it didn’t help to be in the midst of a 600-page book that at times doesn’t have a steady plot to pull itself along. maybe now my reading pace seems less horrifyingly fast than before.

    i’ve never read a collection of letters before, and this is a good collection to read because there is somewhat of a narrative — the evolution of Simone and Nelson’s relationship. she also just writes beautiful letters, and i especially love the way she writes about Paris. the situation between Simone and Nelson is...more

  • Power Politics

    Arundhati Roy

    we saw arundhati roy speak last month, with her cleverly titled Instant-Mix Imperial Democracy (Buy One, Get One Free). i expected nothing less than these eloquent essays about globalization and privatization of public assets in india. her writing is so engaging and accessible that it’s gratifying that she writes on these topics.

    after the essay on the dam projects, it’s sad this week reading about the three gorges dam in china and the various effects it is already having....more