10 Books, #5

  1. Paul A. Colinvaux, Why Big Fierce Animals Are Rare: An Ecologist's Perspective
    A wonderful collection of essays on natural selection and adaption that takes different scenarios in turn, explaining how the operations of evolution work, both in systems elegant and less so. The title essay is a favorite and easily likable piece, not surprisingly given the topic of large predators, but the chapter on the ocean ecology (and how the vast oceans are mostly as devoid of life as are the terrestrial deserts) is just as illuminating. Written in 1978 with a kind of unapologetic clarity of mission (to educate a popular audience in evolutionary science), not long before the Great Pseudo-Proletarian Counter-Revolution, aka the Reagan-Bush-Thatcher Era, it is good to bring this tidy volume back into circulation as one of the basics.

  2. William Shirer, Berlin Diary
    I don't have a great understanding of the Nazi rise in Germany, never having read a blow by blow account. After spending more and more days in Vienna, however, and seeing how the shadow of WWII still informs life at a low but constant level in that city, my interest in that period has been aroused. My brother-in-law tells me that this book became something of a European history curriculum standard for the post-War university students in America, and that partly explains why it is so readily available in secondhand bookshops. Which is where I picked up my copy, for three bucks, I think. Pretty cheap for a true and harrowing story.

  3. Michael Ilk, Brancusi, Tzara und die rumänische Avantgarde
    This book contains good quality reproductions of some of the most remarkable examples of modern continental graphic design I have ever seen. Too bad the book is hard to find and even harder to buy. I had the luxury of studying it over a couple of weeks, but the owner did not want to sell it. If you've got a copy you are willing to part with, please let me know.

  4. Nada Shalaby and Aaron Hughes, Passing Notes
    Artist and antiwar activist Aaron Hughes distributed copies of this thick zine in the Song of Returning exhibition, mounted at Art of This in Minneapolis and organized by Mike Wolf. The interwoven narrative brings two worlds into a surrealistic proximity, the one a midwestern story of an American kid going off to war, the other an expatriate tale of departures, uncertainty, and landing in a different part of America. Aaron Hughes tells of driving Army trucks in Kuwait and Iraq during the American War on Iraq. Nada Shalaby revisits her childhood in Kuwait, the outbreak of war, and the family’s subsequent escape to the West, thanks to American citizenship. Both note the sandstorms. The images—a combination of drawings and photos, all reproduced in photocopy—are haunting.

  5. Eddie Yuen, George Katsiaficas, & Daniel Burton-Rose, editors, The Battle of Seattle
    The Soft Skull website says a book called Confronting Capitalism is the expanded and updated version of this book. This original edition was first published in Spring of 2002. I prefer it because it occupies a really important moment in time as the first attempt at comprehensively accounting for the alternative globalization movement, but doing so at time of new uncertainty and heavy drumbeats of ratcheted up violence. Given the spectres of war and the fascistic maneuvers of the Bush administration, performing some accounting of N30 in 2002 was itself an act of bravery. By 2004, of course, many of the questions and priorities had changed in response to an onslaught of imperialist violence worse than was feared.

  6. Katie Clemson and Rosemary Simmons, The Complete Manual of Relief Printmaking
    This volume is out of print and a little hard to find, but is absolutely essential for the well-equipped woodcut artist. The reproductions of artworks are numerous, high quality, and instructive. I doubt that many of them have been reproduced anywhere else. The section on inks and mixing colors is particularly helpful, and gives the subject the attention that many other printmaking technique books overlook. The chemistry in use is a little out of date, but with relief printing it is mostly a problem of clean-up, which is pretty easily managed with the newer non-toxic clean-up procedures that almost everyone uses. In other matters of technique, this volume is a bible.

  7. Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward, Poor People's Movements
    I returned to this book after more than twenty years. I first encountered it in a class taught by Paul Wellstone that I took in my very first term in college. I was only eighteen. Reading it lately, after a short lifetime's worth of personal experience and historical evolution, I find the authors' analyses amazingly relevant. With our narrowly averted short term economic crash and our long term implosion unaddressed, everything old is new again, including Piven and Cloward's arguments, the details of which I had nearly all forgotten.

  8. Walker Art Center, Kara Walker: My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love
    If you like figure drawing, then spend some time with this volume. Sometimes it is true, art explodes obscenity. How far the shards travel is the question. This is art exploding obscenity with great force.

  9. Alston W. Purvis, H.N. Werkman
    H.N. Werkman is one of my printer heroes. This guy was a real free spirit on the press. More impressive is that he made that final commitment to expression and experimentation at around the age of 41, after having proven his inability to run a business by mismanaging his commercial print shop. Through his involvement and production of the irregular periodical The Next Call between 1923 and 1926 he took the printer-artist in the direction of the contemporary zine maker and mail artist. Over the nine issue lifespan, he made contact (not always friendly) with many artists via the forty or so letterpress printed copies of each issue he mailed out, including many of the dada and avant garde luminaries of his time. He had courage, too. Or maybe it was foolishness. He printed and openly distributed avant garde and Jewish-identified material under the Nazi occupation of Holland, unlike nearly all other Dutch printers, who almost all published subversive material anonymously. He was murdered by the Nazis.

  10. Bernhard Cella, Travel Journal Two: Edition Ostblick
    Almost too beautiful to write in, this production blends the functionality of a Moleskine with the intrigue of a richly layered artist's book, visually and organizationally. Bernhard Cella, proprietor of Vienna's Salon für Kunst Buch, assured me that he knew people who used them as travel diaries, imparting to them an individual personality and history. But he also admitted that there were those who enjoyed and preserved them in their original condition. Ah, what to do with mine? I do have travels upcoming. Satisfaction: I traded four copies of Call to Farms for this and a couple of other nice books from the shelves of his store.


- Dan S. Wang