Better Together: Restoring the American Community
by Robert Putnam and Lewis M. Feldstein with Don Cohen (Simon & Schuster, $26.95). Sociologist Robert Putnam, creator of the “bowling alone” theory of community decline, now takes a look at what works across America. In these stories of successful efforts to solve problems and enrich community life, from activist Chicano church groups in the Rio Grande Valley to neighborhood libraries in Chicago, we rejoice in a new sense of what's possible in tough situations.
The Bandit Queen of India
by Phoolan Devi, with Marie-Thérese Cuny and Paul Rambali (Lyons Press, $22.95). Given in marriage at 11 to a husband who raped and beat her, Phoolan Devi eventually escaped her oppressive village, was kidnapped by bandits, then became a legendary bandit herself, renowned for robbing from the rich and giving to the poor. Elected to Parliament in 1996 and gunned down by assassins in 2001, Phoolan Devi and her resistance to tyranny live on in this first-person account compiled from tapes.
A Thousand Years over a Hot Stove
by Laura Schenone (Norton, $35). Peppered throughout with photographs, personal stories, and more than 50 recipes (including one for baked locusts), this fascinating culinary history documents the intimate, ever-changing ties between American women and food—from milking cows and churning butter in the colonial era to throwing Tupperware parties in the 1950s to microwaving single-serve frozen lasagna packages today.
A Secret History of Consciousness
by Gary Lachman (Lindisfarne Books, $19.95). Modern scientists tend to believe that consciousness rises entirely from the brain. Lachman, a rock musician who has played with Iggy Pop and Blondie, among others, has written a remarkably thoughtful survey of those who have argued otherwise. Armchair psychonauts and skeptics alike will find much to ponder in this entertaining look at the Western mind's wilder flights through inner space.
GOSPEL Shout, Sister, Shout!: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe by various artists (M.C. Records). Powerhouse lungs, aggressive guitar chops, and an unfettered joy in singing gospel songs were Tharpe's trademarks, and she blazed trails for scores of musicians until her death in 1973. A rich assortment of female performers, from Maria Muldaur to Michelle Shocked to Toshi Reagon, come together to salute the singer, belting out their love for the woman who went from Cotton Plant, Arkansas, to the top of the gospel world.
by the Soviettes (Adeline Records). Aha—Punk rockers really are communists! This mostly female Minneapolis quartet puts new thrash into the three-chord genre with hook-heavy songs that sound like the Ramones cross-bred with the Go-Gos. Songs like “Clueless,” about the 43rd president, and “The Land of Clear Blue Radio,” about your favorite radio conglomerate, are inspirational, in-their-face anthems.
Black Midnight Sun
by Lucky Peterson (Dreyfus). Peterson, a guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who honed his art in the backup bands of several blues stars, steps out audaciously on his own, working funk, soul, jazz, and rock into his amped-up music. His song picks—including Sly Stone's “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa
“—are adventurous and groovy.
The House Carpenter's Daughter
by Natalie Merchant (Myth America Records). Merchant deliberately downscaled her career by leaving major label Elektra Records and putting out her own CDs, and the change seems to suit her well. For this DIY project, she dug into the American folk songbook and came up with classics and obscurities that still resonate amid keening fiddles, rolling banjos, and steel guitar.
by Richard Galliano (Dreyfus). “New musette” artist Galliano treats master Argentine bandoneonist Astor Piazzolla, his mentor and hero, less as a tribute subject than as a taking-off point for incredible accordion excursions accompanied by simpatico violin, viola, and cello. It's an approach the tango king would have loved, full of fire and heart and drama.
(www.geocities.com/dreamwhipzine). One of my favorite zines now has a Web site with photos and text about abandoned hotels, mural maps, Lubbock Laundromats, sketchy burger joints, and the geometry of suburbs. Bound to inspire a new way of seeing.
by Craig Fraser (Quivertree, $40). An intimate look inside South Africa's shantytowns, this exquisite collection of photographs zooms in on the richly textured, colorful, and life-affirming aesthetic found in even the harshest of economic conditions. As evidence of the serious social inequities that still remain in post-apartheid South Africa, this book contains an implicit call to the world to make beautiful-and decent-living conditions available for everyone.