Mixed Media Books Roundup

Book reviews

| January / February 2006

Walking It Off: A Veteran's Chronicle of War and Wilderness
By Doug Peacock (Eastern Washington University Press)
Among western environmentalists, Doug Peacock is an iconic figure, a larger than life man of the wild. He has been immortalized in books by Jim Harrison and Rick Bass and, most importantly, in Edward Abbey's The Monkey Wrench Gang. His rocky friendship with Abbey serves as a touchstone in this memoir, which recounts a series of 'great walks' in uninhabited country. For Peacock, Abbey's 1989 death triggered a period of self-examination, using the tools he and Abbey both believed in: 'walking, solitude, wildness.' In Nepal, Arizona's Cabeza Prieta, Mexico's Sierra Madre, and other wild places, Peacock 'walks off' his wounds, in particular the debilitating legacy of his Vietnam service. -- Capper Nichols

Listen to the Mockingbird: American Folksongs and Popular Music Lyrics of the 19th Century
By Douglas Messerli, editor (Green Integer)
It's odd to find 'Red River Valley' and 'Oh Susannah' in a volume bound for libraries, bookstores, and literary analysis. Nevertheless, archiving American cultural history is important in its own right, and this book offers some unusual glimpses into our country's playful -- and often sordid -- collective imagination. From the infrequently sung mocking verses of 'Jingle Bells' to the hilarious 'Jeff in Petticoats' (Confederate president Jefferson Davis escaped soldiers in his wife's coat) to the disturbing 'minstrel tunes' sung by whites in blackface, these folk tunes, many of which are now treated as children's songs, are anything but innocent. Tales of abuse, alcoholism, prisoners, war, starvation, and incest provide some context to reality TV and America's enduring profane/sacred split personality. -- Sarah Wash

Doctor Weep and Other Strange Teeth
By Gary Barwin (The Mercury Press)
Between the freaky, funny filmmaker Guy Maddin and author Gary Barwin, Canada is producing some of the most innovative creative works of our time. Barwin, like Maddin, immerses his audience in a dislocating world where, for instance, children are bread dough and Franz Kafka gets washed in the laundry. His voice, unlike that of many experimentalists, is more childlike and curious than morose and alienated. Like Alice, Barwin's characters frequently enjoy interchangeable sizes and seemingly impossible adventures, like a journey through Grandmother's freezer. Subtler, though, are the repetitions of words and themes that give the collection aesthetic cohesion. The stories range in tone from fairy tale to frightening, but what makes them so compelling is Barwin's balance of melancholy with wide-eyed wonder. -- SW

A Tiny Home to Call Your Own: Living Well in Just Right Houses
By Patricia Foreman & Andy Lee (Good Earth Publications)
This self-published book about small houses functions in part as an ad for the authors' prefab houses and house plans. That said, it might also be read with a mind toward doing it yourself, turning a garage into a living space, building a house on wheels, using alternative (and hypoallergenic) housing materials, and harvesting rainwater, for example. The houses described range from really tiny to relatively large. (One has a porch with a bigger footprint than the cabin Anne LaBastille writes about in her book Beyond Black Bear Lake.) Foreman and Lee also touch upon such issues as clutter, landscape blight, and homelessness, and they include a useful bibliography and resource listings. The Virginia-based authors have also written and published books on permaculture and backyard market gardening. -- Chris Dodge

The Hounds of No
By Lara Glenum (ActionBooks)
On their Web site, the editors of the brand-new ActionBooks declare: 'We want poetry that goes too far.' In Lara Glenum, they've snagged a poet who's slipped the leashes of the dominant modes in American poetry: quiet, reflective realism and left-brain language play. Glenum digs in the red dirt of the surrealist tradition of imaginative turbulence and bizarre surprise, throwing a fierce female body awareness into a series of strange dramas with Gothic titles like 'The Tale of the Wicked Lotuses' and 'The Name of the Ghoul.' These poems are red-blooded challenges to the prudishness of our national poetic imagination. You will never hear them on The Writer's Almanac. -- Jon Spayde

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