6/24/2008 12:28:44 PM
Another feminist bookstore nearly disappeared this month: the Amazon Bookstore Cooperative in Minneapolis. As it turns out, Amazon will no longer be a co-op, but the bookstore will stay open. “After surviving the invasion of chain bookstores, weathering the shift toward digital media, and body-slamming Amazon.com with a lawsuit, did you honestly expect anything else?” writes the Twin Cities alt-weekly City Pages. Well, yes, actually. Amazon owners and patrons expected the store to close by June 30, and several articles eulogized Amazon in the past few weeks.
The store’s savior is Minneapolis resident Ruta Skujins, reports Minneapolis Metroblogging. Skujins, according to MinnPost.com, is an editor at the lesbian publishing houses Regal Crest Enterprises and Intaglio. (Ironically, the first link for “Ruta Skujins” that popped up in a Google search was her Amazon.com profile. On the bright side, the page lets curious patrons peek at the new owner's taste in books.)
Skujins looks to have the necessary business sense to make Amazon thrive, and plans to transform it into a neighborhood spot in addition to being a home for the feminist and lesbian communities. (She hasn’t ruled out a name change for the store, either.) I stopped by Amazon last Friday, and the neighborhood was hopping—a family getting ice cream before strapping the toddler into a Burley, 20-somethings chatting over wine and appetizers at the corner café, hand-holding couples taking a walk around the block. If Amazon can become an inviting community space without losing its feminist personality, it could have a long life ahead of it.
Image by anonfx, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/23/2008 5:29:53 PM
We crave stories, writes trend-seeker Lynn Casey in the Summer 2008 issue of Arcade. So much so, that the future of marketing belongs to the best storytellers. Internet commerce—with its seemingly endless selection and variable price points—has created a vacuum, Casey says, where things like real touch and real time are scarcities. “Those vendors who can imbue their products with story and feed the hunger in the coming generations for history and connection will thrive,” Casey predicts.
6/20/2008 4:06:01 PM
BikeSnobNYC is an outspoken and occasionally antagonistic blogger, offering candid and provocative opinions about biking and bike culture. But recently he published a thoughtful post outlining some of the fears that prevent people from getting on bikes in the first place, reasons why such fears are unfounded, and suggestions for overcoming them. Far from letting his snobbishness intimidate would-be bikers, he wants to convert as many to biking as possible:
For all my derision, the last thing I’d want to do is discourage someone from riding a bike. If anything, I’d like to think I poke fun at the things that are actually barriers of entry to new cyclists, and not at new cyclists themselves.
To each of the most common apprehensions—I’ll get hurt; I’ll get honked at; I’ll look ridiculous; I can’t afford it; etc.—he offers several commonsense counterarguments. In doing so, he’s provided a valuable service to those who want to become dedicated riders but aren’t quite sure where to start, and also chipped away at some of the perceived insularity and pretension surrounding bike culture.
One of the greatest things about cycling is you can do it with 10,000 people or you can do it alone. And you don’t need to engage in the “secret handshake” of name-dropping, proper equipment usage, and wardrobe in order to do it. . . . If nothing else, you’ll never, ever be bored again. There will no longer ever be a daunting empty window of time in your day, as you’ll always have something to fill it with. Even if you’re all by yourself.
Image by mandiberg, licensed by Creative Commons.
6/17/2008 5:50:00 PM
The Summer Reading issue of fiction-juggernaut Tin House arrived today, but it was an essay that caught my eye: “A Good Creature,” by Chris Adrian (excerpt only available online), which darts fluidly between the present and the past, weaving together recollections of fabled family dogs and reflections on a recent breakup.
“My ex-boyfriend tells me he’s thinking of getting a dog,” Adrian begins. “This is significant to me for a few reasons. We have only been broken up for about a month, and in that time I’ve managed to put off absolutely none of the habits of mind I developed when we were together, so it still feels like we are together, and so in some pathetic way I consider him to be thinking of getting a dog for us.”
It’s clear, though, that the tendency to develop habits of the mind—those tenacious neural connections and associations—has served Adrian well as a writer. As “A Good Creature” unfolds, his ability to make gentle, slightly surreal connections between disparate threads of thought is a pleasure to read. By the end, everything is touchingly jumbled: "My ex-boyfriend wants a dog, and I want to be like a dog," he writes. "You'd think we could come to some sort of accommodation."
6/13/2008 12:30:41 PM
In terms of reader pooh-poohing, speculative fiction (the umbrella term for sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and magical realism) ranks almost on par with sports writing and poetry, according to a recent Bookmarks survey (article not available online). But looking closely at science fiction, Bookmarks argues that it's a genre full of worthy reads, just caveat lector: with prolific production comes varying levels of quality.
Science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer, quoted in the Bookmarks piece, describes the perils of choosing a sci-fi book at random:
First, a person who has become interested in SF through the media, or because of vague childhood memories, will pick up a book from the vast SF rack and be turned off. He or she will be turned off because the work will almost certainly be crap. . . . Yup, you could read a good SF novel a week each week of the year, no doubt. But if you read an SF novel a week picked at random from the rack, you'd never come back for a second year of such torture.
To prevent such a turn-off, Bookmarks provides seven pages of sci-fi picks and subgenre definitions in its July-August issue to guide wary readers through the saturated market. The subgenre recommendations include time travel, cyberpunk (“Cyberpunk’s characters are alienated loners living on the fringes of chaotic societies. The settings are dark, the outcomes gloomy, and the boundaries between reality and illusion often indistinguishable”), and space opera (“Big ideas, big egos, big ships, big problems. Space opera means interplanetary travel and sexy technology, unsolvable philosophical conundrums, war on a galactic scale”).
For an intelligent argument about why science fiction is timelier than ever, read this.
(Thanks, Arts & Letters Daily.)
6/12/2008 5:17:17 PM
John Porcellino, the quirky cartoonist-writer-illustrator behind King Cat Comics, has gone and compacted Walden, Thoreau’s magnum opus, into a tidy graphic novel. Presented by the Center for Cartoon Studies and published through Hyperion, Thoreau at Walden is, well, damn cool: Porcellino’s simple, straightforward style uncannily complements pared-down text from the transcendental philosopher himself. It’s a distillation, yes, but a refreshing, artistic, insightful one—and (in the most pedestrian of reactions) reading it made me want to instantly recommend it to any student ever tempted to grab for those proverbial CliffsNotes, in addition to fans, obviously, of graphic novels, Thoreau, or Porcellino.
6/11/2008 12:47:57 PM
For nearly seven years, Mark Richardson has been quietly but consistently writing a column for Pitchfork called “Resonant Frequency.” His funny and far-reaching pieces tie all kinds of loose musical and cultural threads together in a cogent way that somehow cuts through a lot of the pretension and dismissive snark that typifies today’s music writing (a complaint often leveled against Richardson’s employer, in fact).
“Resonant Frequency” is at its best when trying to bridge the yawning gulf between mainstream popular music and the insular subculture of independent music. For example, Richardson’s most recent column makes some points about American Idol that I’d never considered, despite its being today's most ubiquitous pop-cultural phenomenon. And he makes compelling arguments for why and how hipsters have finally embraced Bruce Springsteen.
Richardson is also adept at putting certain artists or songs under the microscope, as he does with the Silver Jews, Brian Eno, or "I Only Have Eyes For You." His voice is honest and searching, never wonkish or condescending, and always seasoned with just the right amount of autobiographical detail. Anyone hungry for really smart music writing should check out Richardson’s column archive.
, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/11/2008 10:55:49 AM
Post-partum depression and body image woes are part of the psychic price new moms pay for their bundles of joy. Delivering seven-pound, six-ounce twin girls took a hefty physical and emotional toll on Melissa Stanton, which she describes in MotherVerse (excerpt only available online), a journal of writing by moms.
Stanton learned the only way to regain her former figure would be a tummy tuck, which required too long a recovery for a mother caring for a preschooler and infant twins. Without surgery, Stanton faced scrutiny from strangers and surgeons. “Looking pregnant after delivery is a cruelty few first-time moms are prepared for,” she writes. “But with the twins, the balloon-like remains of my pregnancy were so pronounced that a doctor sent to check on me dared to declare, ‘Are the twins still in there?’ ”
Though her “wobbly belly” caused Stanton stress, she managed to find a use for it. “When the twins are teens, I fully intend to show them photographs of my expanding—and by month-nine torpedo-like—pregnant belly. I’m hopeful that seeing the images will make my daughters sexually responsible and cautious. Girls! If you have sex, this can happen to you!”
Eventually, Stanton decided to have surgery to repair her abdominal damage, “if only to keep my uterus and innards in place.” She did, however, refuse the cosmetic trims and tucks the first plastic surgeon suggested: “…as I really looked at my changed body, which for years I had shied from seeing, I wondered at what point does one generation cede youth to the next? ...I’ve come to realize and accept that I’m now of an age when it’s more important for my body to be healthy than fashionable.”
Image by Mahalie, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/4/2008 12:39:42 PM
Canada is no bucolic backwater, writes Canadian novelist John McFetridge for Canada's book news magazine, Quill & Quire (article not available online). It's a criminal hotspot, and it's providing plentiful material for crime writers. McFetridge points out Canadian criminals like the Montreal mafia that ran the French Connection drug smuggling ring; warring biker gangs in Quebec who killed more than 200 people; and an estimated 100,000 people working in Canada's $4 billion marijuana industry. Canadian crime fiction writers Louise Penny, Giles Blunt, Sandra Ruttan, and Anne Emery are reaping the creative benefits of domestic disorder, “beginning to stay home and investigate what's going on here” with crime novels set in Canada.
Image by Simon Davison, licensed under Creative Commons.
6/3/2008 1:29:20 PM
Megan Hustad has written a book called How to Be Useful, a self-described “beginner’s guide to not hating work.” Rather than bombard us with, say, seven habits of highly successful people, or try to tell us what color our parachute is, Hustad explores some fundamental ways in which people can be happier at their jobs by making themselves more useful, even if they’re not at their Dream Job, or are stuck working for The Man.
Hustad's career counseling comes at a fortuitous time for the under-30 set entering the workforce and struggling to find their niche, while their older colleagues wonder, sometimes bitterly, how to best manage coworkers in this generation. It's a clash we documented in “The Kid in the Corner Office” in our January/February 2008 issue.
Over at the Millions, Hustad is responding to various contributors’ descriptions of their first jobs out of college, positions at which—surprise surprise—they didn’t feel terribly useful. Readers can even submit their own first-job anecdotes, because misery sure loves company. In today’s troubled job market, we could all use a morale boost, and maybe become more useful in the process.
6/2/2008 5:28:19 PM
For anyone who ever has picked up an unfamiliar photograph and pondered its meaning, LA-based arts magazine X-Tra runs a captivating column. “1 Image 1 Minute,” curated (so to speak) by visual/performance artist Micol Hebron, always features two images, each one complemented with a one-minute narrative from an artist or writer describing the significance therein.
Sometimes the narratives are straight-forwardly analytical; in the Summer 2008 issue, for example, writer Chas Bowie responds to photographer Bill Thomas’ disturbing self-portrait Rats and Syringes. Other narratives are more personal, poignant peeks into the lives of others. In the Spring 2008 issue, writer Paul Minden describes deciphering a photograph taken of his father in Romania in 1939 (article not available online):
“What’s interesting about this picture,” my father asked. This was clearly a quiz, and I was failing. At 86 he was sharp as a tack, found these old photos much more compelling than his stomach cancer, and had no intention of leaving this world till I understood why this literally pedestrian photo struck him as monumental.
As it turns out, the photograph was taken just hours before Hitler attacked Poland. “Five teens with time for a campy snapshot,” Minden reflects, “with no clue how drastically life was about to change…. This was the calm before the storm troopers.”
Image by freeparking, licensed under Creative Commons.
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