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Passages in Modern Sculpture by Rosalind E. Krauss

Sculpture has always been an “unreadable” and opaque art form for me.  While I canpassages look at classical and figurative sculpture and appreciate the labor and skill that went into its making, I couldn’t tell you what the underlying meaning of the work was.  By the time you get to the non-figurative, conceptual sculpture of the 20th and 21st centuries, I am at a complete loss and feel like I have no idea what I’m looking at.

Rosalind Krauss’ Passages in Modern Sculpture was the first book to really teach me how to look at and think about modern/contemporary sculpture.

Chapter One examines Rodin, a sculptor many would consider “classical” insofar as he deals with recognizable human forms, and demonstrates how the conceptual and abstract properties of later sculpture are already at work here.  By treating Rodin as a transitional figure, Krauss helps the sculpturally illiterate (like me!) bridge the daunting gap between representational and abstract art.

Subsequent chapters tackle Duchamp’s readymades, Giacometti’s surreal constructions, installation art, and environmental sculpture.

In her introduction, Krauss points out that she wrote her book with student readers in mind, so the text is lucid and refreshingly jargon-free.  If you are up for an adventurous stroll through the enigmatic sculpture gardens of the past hundred years, Rosalind Krauss makes an excellent tour guide.

(Chris Fox, Central Library)


David Lynch : The Man from Another Place By Dennis Lim

David LynchWhen the Twin Peaks revival was announced a few years ago, a veritable cottage industry of Twin Peaks-related books, think pieces, and apparel appeared virtually overnight to cash in on the news.  Missing from this welcome deluge of material was a concise, accessible critical/biographical overview of David Lynch, co-creator of the cult TV show and arguably the reason most folks were excited about the prospects of the new season.

Dennis Lim’s The Man From Another Place successfully fills that void with a breezy, readable introduction to the life and work of David Lynch. Lim does an excellent job incorporating the many projects Lynch has been involved in, including his art work, “industrial symphonies”, songwriting, Transcendental Meditation advocacy, and even his four-panel comic strip The Angriest Dog in the World.

Lim’s book is saved from being a glorified Wikipedia page by the copious amount of interviews he conducted with Lynch and various artistic collaborators, so that someone who has read, say, the 700-page David Lynch biography Beautiful Dark, will still find new insights and information here. The author is also gracious enough to provide interpretations of Lynch’s films for the newly initiated, giving the perplexed a way into the labyrinths of these visionary works (indeed, Lim has me convinced I now “understand” Inland Empire.)

If you’ve heard the name David Lynch and never understood what the fuss is about, this book is an excellent place to start.

(Chris Fox, Central Library)

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

killersIf you like to read about history and like true crime books, you’ll probably find this book a fascinating tale.

The time?  The 1920s.  The place?  The Osage Indian lands in Oklahoma.  The situation?  These Indians, after the discovery of oil under their land, were the world’s richest people per capita.

Then Anna Brown, an Osage Indian, disappeared.  Her body showed up in a river; someone had shot her through the head.  This was the first of many deaths among the tribe’s members – from gunshot wounds, from suspicious illnesses, and from an explosion in the home of an Osage couple.  Local investigators were unable to solve these crimes, and some of these investigators also met untimely deaths.

The FBI was rather new at this time.  J. Edgar Hoover, its young director, sent a former Texas Ranger, Tom White, to investigate the matter.  The FBI estimated a total of twenty-four murders, and later estimates are much higher.  White and his team were partially successful in determining the cause of the murders; later investigators, including this book’s author, have made more discoveries.

Grann also wrote The Lost City of Z; I have not read that book but did enjoy seeing the movie version of this true story about exploration in the Amazon region.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

Stevenson, an attorney, heads the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit seeking to help just mercypeople who are serving unjust sentences.  One priority is assisting innocent people who are on death row.  Another major initiative is assisting juvenile offenders sent to adult prisons.  Stevenson successfully argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that put an end to sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A major part of the book involves Walter McMillan, a black Alabama resident who was on death row, awaiting execution for murder.  Stevenson, believing that Walter was innocent, decided that EJI would try to save Walter.  This is the most detailed of the compelling stories of injustice and of EJI’s success in helping many of these accused people.

The New York Times Book Review included these words, “Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.”  Every American would profit from a fuller understanding of criminal justice issues, and this fascinating book is a good start.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)


The Unsettlers : in search of the good life in today’s America by Mark Sundeen

UnsettlersWe’ve all heard about eating organically, as “organic” foods and products proliferate in most grocery stores nowadays.  But, is eating organically eating ethically?  Particularly if certain organic products are shipped here from Chile and other parts beyond, then how is consuming them an ethical act, considering the fossil fuels required to get them to our tables?

The Unsettlers raises the questions of food ethics as it focuses on three couples who have made it their collective callings to not only grow their own food and sell the surplus, but to live without much of the big box store “conveniences” that modern living entails, even if they have access to such conveniences.

The first couple has created an intentional community in northeastern Missouri.  Their way of life is perhaps the most extreme covered in the book.  Ethan and Sarah completely reject use of automobiles and electricity; those wishing to visit or intern at their farm find out about it via word of mouth rather than electronic media.

Olivia and Greg are an interracial couple; both grew up in the Detroit area but from completely contrasting backgrounds.  They came together sharing a love for gardening and a strong determination to create a future for their crumbling crime-ridden city – a future that includes better food options for inner-city residents and a stronger sense of community.

Steve and Luci are the oldest couple; they have done the “back to the land” lifestyle longer than most.  They have weathered the changes of perception towards natural and organically grown foods, for better and worse – better in that more people are eating said foods, and worse, as organic products become just that – products of huge corporations that are anathema to what these folks have believed in and worked for, for over thirty years.

The couples highlighted in The Unsettlers have their preachy moments, but much of what they expound upon makes sense.  The collective beliefs – eating locally, investing in the immediate community, and using less or no fossil fuels – make much more sense than continuing to support the conglomerates labeling everything “organic” in an attempt to get rich off the feel-good moment, while polluting the world to get it into our grocery stores.

The book will definitely have you considering what you eat, and how you acquire it.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy by Jean Kennedy Smith

If John Kennedy were still alive, he would now be a hundred years old.  This milestonenine of us led me to think about reading a book about him, but I wasn’t in the mood for a serious volume about his presidency or a sad description of his assassination.  This book about the childhood of the nine Kennedy children, Joe, John, Rosemary, Kathleen (nicknamed Kick), Eunice, Pat, Bobby, Jean, and Ted, takes us back to a happy, innocent time in their lives.

This was a family oriented household, with no adult dinner parties – dinner was a special time for the parents and children to gather for conversation, including discussions of political issues.  At their summer home in Hyannis Port, the brothers and sisters enjoyed swimming, sailing, touch football, biking, and other sports.  Their parents, Joseph and Rose Kennedy, made time to be with each child individually and encouraged each child to develop individual interests and talents, which might involve taking classes or teaching skills to one another.

Despite the Kennedy family’s great wealth, Joseph and Rose told their children that their ancestors had struggled financially and that they must never take anything for granted.  Each child helped with household chores, and some had summer jobs or did volunteer work.  Gifts – not extravagant ones, either – were only for birthdays and Christmas. Clothes and toys were, if possible, mended rather than replaced.  Long distance telephone calls were expensive and were, therefore, brief.

Reading about the lives of these children made great summer reading!

Jean Kennedy Smith is the eighth of the nine children.  She served as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and also founded VSA, an international organization providing arts and education for people with disabilities.

(Helen Snow, retired from Information Services)


Love of Country : A Journey through the Hebrides by Madeleine Bunting

love of countryIn Love of Country, the author addresses the natural worlds of the Hebrides, the islands off the western coast of Scotland, and the tragic history of their inhabitants.  The Hebrides are largely the last bastion of native Scots-Gaelic speakers, whose numbers have dwindled due to forced immigration, lack of jobs, and the harshness of life on the islands; those that remain are marginalized from mainstream British life.  Indeed, the islands and their inhabitants have been perceived as outlandish curiosities in their own country for centuries.

Bunting reflects on the natural environment of the Hebrides and how it has influenced the human factor.  The native islanders learned eons ago how to live with the unyielding winds and coaxed a living from the spare earth of their homes.  Unfortunately, their very existence depended on who owned the land – often absentee landlords trying to turn a profit from ill-conceived enterprises that were usually detrimental to the residents.

There are hundreds of islands in the Hebrides; the author chooses to focus on a small group of them, populated or not.  Each island she visits has its own personality, determined by the terrain and animal life that dominate.  For some we find birder’s paradises (St. Kilda and the Flannan Islands come to mind), others, the preponderance of land animals (Jura’s red deer population vastly outnumbers human beings there).

Love of Country is a meditative book.  Some parts of it reminded me of Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places, but with more historical context.  I wouldn’t call it a quick read, but for those who find far-flung areas appealing and can appreciate the poetic beauty of the untamed, please give this one a look.

I started reading about the Hebrides around the age of thirteen, starting with National Geographic articles.  Nearly fifteen years ago, I had the experience to briefly visit two of these islands (Mull and Iona).  The two words I’d use to describe them (beautiful and bleak) are inadequate.  Endlessly fascinating might be a more apt description – and immensely sad.

(William Hicks, Information Services)