10 Books, #4

  1. Silver Buckle Press, Specimen Book of Wood Type
    It would be easy to mistake the impressive printing and lovely craftsmanship of this book for a high-end novelty, one of those so-called fine art books that is created most outstandingly as a virtuoso technical exercise, and is mostly consumed by the patrician collecting class. But in fact I've used the book lately for its intended purpose, and with its help have managed to identify a couple of previously unknown wood type faces I have. That is how come I know that the simple but effective organization of information is of a considered quality every bit as stunning as that of the printing and binding. The volume includes a neato folded commemorative poster slipped into a tipped-in pocket on the inside back cover.

  2. Wang Hui, China's New Order
    This book is essentially an extended essay, and not one of Wang Hui's major works. But it is the most widely disseminated of his among readers of English. I recommend it for anyone interested in the conditions against which emerged the '89 social movement centered in Beijing (but spread throughout urban China). There is much discussion of specific material challenges presented by the then-new economic reforms, and largely felt by the urban citizenry. The basic argument is that the '89 social movement for whatever its expressions of democratic aspirations, could also be seen as presenting a critique of what we could now call the neoliberal floodgates which were then about to be opened by the Chinese government.

  3. Bern Porter, The Last Acts of Saint Fuck You
    Learning about Bern Porter was one of my highlight discoveries of 2008. Now I think of him as one of three creative geniuses of the American Century, the other two being Jess and Tom Dowd. Each guy worked for the Manhattan Project and then for different reasons ditched the work of nuclear engineering and became cultural workers. I wonder how many more artists came from that select group of minds. Also, there is terrific collage work in this volume, which is one of Xexoxial Editions bestselling titles.

  4. Lisa Mahar, American Signs: Form and Meaning on Route 66
    This is a different treatment of Route 66. It is not travel narrative or about national mythologies of place. Rather, the author takes Route 66 for what it is - a long, long open-air museum of twentieth-century hospitality signage. The analysis of signage trends through the decades reveals as much or more about the American motor traveler's psychology than any travel narrative, and at the same time educates the reader about the twentieth-century commercial sign industry. The page layouts themselves are fine examples of image/text visual communication. Anybody with an interest in mid-century graphic styles will get a lot out of this book.

  5. Jac Holzman and Gavan Daws, Follow the Music: The Life and High Times of Elektra Records in the Great Years of American Pop Culture
    Indulgent reading about the days when music fans actually ran big record labels. Terrific stories about Jim Morrison (his loyalty to his bandmates is admirable), a very young Jackson Browne (the quanities of pot smoked are near unbelievable), Paul Rothchild, Bruce Botnick, Carly Simon, and many others. There's a great story about Iggy and the Stooges, how Iggy finished up an early Seventies show in New York, covered with blood and spit, in leather pants and boots with nothing else on, as was his standard performance costume in those days. He takes a cab straight from the venue to an Upper West Side building, hands the doorman a little piece of paper, gets shown to the elevator. He and his tag-along companion arrive at the door of a luxurious apartment and are greeted at the entry by a forty year-old beauty in a negligee. She has a fantastic spread laid out, which Iggy offers to his friend. The three of them dine, the woman bringing food to Iggy's lips the whole time. Then Iggy's friend leaves, and Iggy stays for the night, still looking like he just got off stage. Jac's story is pretty remarkable in itself. He was a music fan first and a business guy second, kind of like his contemporary, Ahmet Ertegun.

  6. Steven Heller, From Merz to Èmigré and Beyond
    This is a really well done compendium of a century's worth of avant-garde magazine design, broken into chronological chapters. Heller's story ends in the mid and late Nineties, and now after nearly another decade's distance, the golden age of desktop publishing seems to gain weight again and feel aesthetically lively. Without the filter of history, the present is always the worst era for graphic design.

  7. Walter Benjamin, Reflections
    If your reading diet includes a lot of theory and intellectual material sometimes it is easy to feel like you get enough of Benjamin simply through quoted passages. But I still always enjoy and find surprising Benjamin's voice when I go to the source. I had never read this collection in total until recently. It's hard to say which are my favorite texts. Probably Hashish in Marseilles or One-Way Street, but the whole volume is recommended.

  8. Candace Falk, introduction to Emma Goldman, A Documentary History of the American Years, Volume 1: Made for America 1890-1901
    Prior to reading this, I had only read Goldman's Living My Life, and had not read any extended biographical treatments. Falk paints the picture of the times: social war, capitalists against labor. It is a violent world with workers suffering terror at any expression of discontent. Goldman sides with the workers. She becomes one the radicals who advocate fighting back with strikes, and then, in her most militant period, with targeted violence. The evolution of her ideas about and commitments to individual liberation evolve in this context. The body of the book is incredible, hopeless to read through in full, but with surprises on every page for the Emma Goldman fan.

  9. Gayle Wald, Shout, Sister, Shout!
    I first heard the name Sister Rosetta Tharpe from a bootleg Van Morrison tape, wherein he name checks the good sister in one of his stream of consciousness rants. It was fun reading this book in 2008, just several years after it was published, but now with videos of Sister Rosetta Tharpe at the ready on YouTube. Having seen them, the author's descriptions of Sister's performances, I must say, are entirely accurate. If you ever wondered about the greatest ever rock n roll gospel musician, read this book to learn about her COGIC roots, unlikely mainstream career, and the world of black musical performance in the early-mid twentieth-century.

  10. Gerald Raunig, Art and Revolution
    The author's first book out in English is equal parts social theory, art history, and activist strategy discussion.
    I wrote a long review for SITE magazine.


- Dan S. Wang