In many ways W. Reginald Bray could be considered a mail art pioneer, as he sent a bevy of interesting items through the post including, as the title reveals, himself — twice! He also posted his dog and various objects with addresses and stamps applied directly to them, as when he traveled to Ireland and dug up a turnip and etched his address into it (the turnip itself didn’t survive to be documented). His experiments seem more inquisitive of the abilities of the Royal Mail than artistic though. He sent postcards where the addresses were hidden inside poems or partially represented pictorially or written entirely in a mirror. The postcards included his own address and instructions for their return — taking advantage of the...more
For the past couple years, I’ve been pretty focused on ﬁction, so I determinedly picked this history of the 1960s underground press oﬀ my to-read list in an attempt to seek a bit of balance, plus the alternative media angle still had my curiosity piqued two years after I ﬁrst ﬂagged it for later reading. I felt an ominous suspicion near the beginning when McMillian disclaims that he “tried to present the New Left accurately, as a largely white, broad-based, and male-dominated movement, while nevertheless recognizing the crucial inﬂuence of the civil rights movement and the important contributions of women.” It made me worried enough that the recognitions that popped up were more than I expected. Based on its size...more
Like many people, I ﬁrst came across Cheryl Strayed through her column Dear Sugar on the Rumpus, though her identity was still a secret at that point. Sugar’s advice is so unsparingly raw, honest, and compassionate — I think I read all the entries the ﬁrst time I came across one of them. One day at a bookstore when I couldn’t ﬁnd Wild on the shelf, I skimmed through Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of the Sugar letters in book form, only to ﬁnd skimming through that everything was too familiar for the fresh read I was looking for at the time.
Strayed’s decision to hike the Paciﬁc Crest Trail came after several tough years centered around the death of...more
The story behind this book is a bit more interesting that its execution. In his adolescence, Eric Nuzum was haunted by a recurring dream of a girl in a blue dress screaming at him in gibberish, which lead him to numb himself with various substances and fear what may be lurking behind closed doors. Another girl, Laura, in his waking life was crucial in him managing to overcome this downward spiral. But she died tragically, leaving him with a slightly more tangible ghost to contend with. Twenty years later, he revisits these events and physically visits some of the most haunted sites in the US to try to determine if ghosts really exist.
It’s unclear if his only problem...more
The best adjective I’ve seen so far to describe this book is “pointillistic,” as it was described in The New York Times review. Invariably “quietly” will qualify other descriptors, which rightfully suggests it’s a tricky book to recommend to others, especially if you don’t know how it ﬁts in with their usual reading choices. I recently found myself in conversation with someone who revealed her history of competitive swimming and I asked if she’d read this book, then obviously failed to capture its interest potential in one sentence. But we continued talking about swimming and as someone else joined the conversation, the new person immediately asked, “Oh, have you read Swimming Studies?” Between the two of us, we were able...more
A few months ago I saw a reference to Didion’s essay “Goodbye to All That” and read it again and remembered that I still hadn’t read this semi-follow-up to The Year of Magical Thinking about her daughter Quintana’s death. While the ﬁrst book is primarily about grief, this one is focused more on mortality, and, more speciﬁcally, Didion facing hers without her daughter. It’s a much sadder book to me, especially the time Didion spends documenting her increasing frailty and diﬃculty with writing. It’s not too hard to imagine that this could be her last book.
I was happy to read this book when I did, as the title refers to the twilights that happen around the summer...more
Jennie Hinchcliff & Carolee Gilligan Wheeler
The news about the USPS a few weeks ago was dire, so I bought some new stamps (I recommend a couple panes of the Pioneers of American Industrial Design — they’re good forever!) and picked up this book for a little inspiration. I met the Pod Post girls Carolee and Jennie years ago at a Portland Zine Symposium, where they worked their table, as they do, dressed like mail art Girl Scouts, complete with merit badges.
While this is mostly a practical guide to create art-by-mail — from what should be in your kit to etiquette — there’s a bit of history as well. I actually would have liked even more history and stories, but then I have already spent many...more
David Foster Wallace
After reading Inﬁnite Jest two years ago, I didn’t become a DFW fanatic, settling instead for a measured respect for a writer who manages to be incredibly brilliant and hilarious at the same time. I’ve been meaning to get to this collection of essays, especially since I’m not sure when I’ll embark on another epic novel, namely his posthumously published Pale King.
My favorite here by far is “Authority and American Usage” (originally published in Harper’s as “Tense present: Democracy, English, and the wars over usage”), which is ostensibly a review of Bryan A. Garner’s A Dictionary of Modern American Usage, but turns into a sort of treatise on language usage comparing other texts and...more
I became aware of riot grrrl late, mostly from a distance through zines and records. I can still conjure some sadness that Huggy Bear actually played a show in northeastern Connecticut, but on a Tuesday night when there was no way I could go. What I experienced inﬂuenced me greatly, but I never felt like I was a part of the movement in the political sense. There was a lot that I didn’t know about the origins and history. I’m glad this book exists now, though it doesn’t feel like the “deﬁnitive” record it claims to be.
Marcus opens the book by establishing her own relationship to riot grrrl, so it’s clear from the beginning that this is a personal...more
James Agee & Walker Evans
Words could, I believe, be made to do or to tell anything within human conceit. That is more than can be said of the instruments of any other art. But it must be added of words that they are the most inevitably inaccurate of all mediums of record and communication, and that they come at many of the things which they alone can do by such a Rube Goldberg articulation of frauds, compromises, artful dodges and tenth removes as would fatten any other art into apoplexy if the art were not ﬁrst shamed out of existence…
Agee and Evans originally traveled to Alabama on assignment for Fortune magazine; Fortune declined to publish the result, and their documentation of three white...more