Monthly Archives: July 2009

A professional killer invades Comic-Con

July 31, 2009
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A professional killer invades Comic-Con

A cold blooded, merciless, professional killer that would make even Superman soil his tights invaded this year’s Comic-Con. As we’ve previously noted, the ruthless antihero of Donald Westlake aka Richard Stark’s series of mystery novels, known only as Parker, is making his graphic novel debut in an adaptation of Stark’s 1962 novel The Hunter, produced by illustrator Darwyn Cooke and San Diego book editor Scott Dunbier. As the Chicago Tribune‘s Geoff Boucher reports in his review of the novel for last Wednesday’s paper:

adaptation is already being hailed as a masterpiece by key tastemakers in the comics world, and last week it met the public as Cooke and Dunbier took it to Comic-Con International in San Diego, the massive pop-culture expo that is a sort of Cannes for capes or a Sundance for sci-fi.

And in a laudatory article on the new adaptation in today’s New York Times contributor George Gene Gustines writes:

Mr. Cooke depicts his characters with such emotion and conveys so much with gesture and composition that, except for the specifics of the hijacking, you could almost follow the story by the images alone. And when the words and graphics are in harmony, the effect . . .

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Beyond the limits of self-consciousness

July 30, 2009
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Beyond the limits of self-consciousness

A central issue for many photographers is the peculiar way in which the presence of a camera affects the phenomenon being observed—especially when human subjects are involved. Jed Fielding’s new exposition of photographs in Look at me—a pictorial study of blind schoolchildren in Mexico, offers a fascinating exploration of this concept by documenting what happens when the subjects of photographic portraits cannot look back at the photographer or even see their own image. Capturing a rare sense of unmediated contact with his subjects Fielding has concentrated closely on these children’s features and gestures, probing the enigmatic boundaries between surface and interior, innocence and knowing, beauty and grotesque. Confronting disability in a way that affirms life, Fielding’s sightless subjects project a vitality that seems to extend beyond the limits of self-consciousness to produce images that reveal essential gestures of absorption and the basic expressions of our humanity.

For a preview of his work navigate to Fielding’s website where he has posted online a selection from Look at me. And if you’re in the New York area, Fielding will be exhibiting his work from September 10 through October 17th at the Andrea Meislin Gallery. See the gallery website for more details . . .

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The world of airport design

July 30, 2009
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The world of airport design

Slate architecture critic Witold Rybczynski posted a slide-show essay last week on the history and future of airport design. Airports, he begins, started out as grassy fields, but “by the late 1920s, as air travel became more widespread, larger buildings were required, with ticketing counters, waiting rooms, baggage handling, customs and immigration, and so on.… Architects have struggled with the problem of how to design airports ever since—and have produced a variety of different solutions.”

Their architectural solutions, of course, did not exist in a vacuum, and in Naked Airport, Alistair Gordon does a brilliant job of evoking the cultures that influenced and were influenced by what he calls the world’s most revolutionary structure. He does so by tracing their history from those grassy fields to their current position on the front lines in the struggle against international terrorism.

“Here is a book,” one reviewer commented, “with more than enough quirky details to last a long layover.” Which itself is a detail particularly worth noting if you’re lucky enough to have a summer vacation ahead of you.

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How’s the weather (book)?

July 29, 2009
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How’s the weather (book)?

This month has been the coldest July in Chicago in 42 years. The temperature—the average reading hovers below 78 degrees—has failed to reach 90 degrees even once. But while the sun may not have brought the heat to Chicago, Jack Williams beamed brightly on the the airwaves yesterday. Williams, the former editor of the USA Today weather page and author of The AMS Weather Book: The Ultimate Guide to America’s Weather, appeared with TV weatherman extraordinaire Tom Skilling on the WGN Midday News and with Phil Ponce on Chicago Tonight on WTTW.

Wildly popular local meteorologist Skilling—who is profiled in the book on page 166-167, for all you Cult of Tom members—is especially excited about the book. He writes of it: “Terrific&helllip;The book has received rave reviews from meteorologists, but it is written for anyone with an interest in weather and climate. Its approach is unique among books on these subjects because it introduces its readers to the remarkable people who work in the fields of meteorology and climatology. The product of years of work by one of this country’s leading science writers Jack Williams, The AMS Weather Book gives you a first hand look at the weather professionals . . .

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Farewell Publishing?

July 28, 2009
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Farewell Publishing?

Harrisburg Pennsylvania’s WITF-FM aired a show today provocatively titled Farewell Publishing as part of a series of programs focusing on how the digital revolution is affecting various industries, and what these industries must do to adapt to the rapidly changing marketplace for non-physical media. On today’s program, host Craig Cohen invites Tom Allen, President & CEO, Association of American Publishers, Tim Regan-Porter, President, Paste Media Group, and University of Chicago Press Director Garrett Kiely on the show to discuss the effect of digital media on the publishing industry.

From lit. crit., to magazines, to popular fiction, to textbooks, every day more and more titles in every genre and for every purpose are finding a home on the internet in downloadable, and often free, formats that are forcing publishing companies to make critical but quick decisions about their online business strategies. And while publishers are still hunting for the best way to turn a profit with the online sales of digital books, magazines, and newspapers, consumer demand for digital media continues to grow incrementally. From the WITF-FM website:

“With content becoming increasingly available online, what’s to become of the Houghton Mifflins of the world? What about weekly magazines? Are we . . .

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HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s inspiration

July 28, 2009
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HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan’s inspiration

Earlier this month at the Brookings Institution, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan talked with former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros about the challenges posed by concentrated poverty and the lessons of recent development initiatives.

In the midst of the discussion, Donovan told Cisneros that:

As I embark on my own path as HUD Secretary, Henry I want to say to you that I’m in the midst of reading Robert Weaver’s biography. A great biography that was recently published and I say quite seriously that only in Weaver’s example can I find any other HUD Secretary that has brought together the intellectual leadership, the practice, the passion, the commitment that you have brought to the work that you did not only as HUD Secretary, but to literally a lifetime of work in transforming neighborhoods and communities.

The “great biography,” of course, can’t be any other than Wendell Pritchett’s Robert Clifton Weaver and the American City, the first and only biography of the first African American to hold a cabinet position in the federal government. From his role as FDR’s “negro advisor” to his appointment, under Lyndon Johnson, as the first secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Robert Clifton Weaver . . .

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Local Media Roundup

July 27, 2009
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Local Media Roundup

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Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine

July 27, 2009
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Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine

The NYT published a story today about a new sign of hope for the peaceful co-habitation of the West Bank coming from a group of ultra-Orthodox Haredi Jews living in the outlying communities of Modiin Illit and Beitar Illit. According to the Times, though the rapidly growing populations of their settlements along disputed territories account for much of the Israeli government’s claims for the need to expand into Palestinian territory, “these ultra-Orthodox inhabitants often express contempt for the settler movement, with its vows never to move.”

The people here, who shun most aspects of modernity, came for three reasons: they needed affordable housing no longer available in and around Jerusalem or Tel Aviv; they were rejected by other Israeli cities as too cult-like; and officials wanted their presence to broaden Israel’s narrow border.… Yet they are lumped with everyone else.

With an unsurpassed ideological commitment to their religion, but not to the hardline Zionist movements with which ultra-Orthodox communities are sometimes associated, their desire to divorce themselves from the broader nationalist movement brings new hope for a deal with the Palestinians over many existing land disputes and the possibility of a future in which both groups can co-exist . . .

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Death No Hindrance for Westlake

July 24, 2009
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Death No Hindrance for Westlake

Donald Westlake, the mystery author who wrote under numerous pseudonyms, including Richard Stark, has been everywhere in the book pages this week. To make sense of this surge in interest in the late great, we called on our colleague and noted Westlake aficionado Levi Stahl.

As one of the characters in his comic crime novels might have put it, for a dead guy, Donald E. Westlake’s been pretty busy this past week.

It started on July 17th with the publication by Grand Central of the fourteenth and final volume in Westlake’s series of comic novels featuring heister (and schlimazel John Dortmunder, Get Real. All of us fans ran to our local bookshop to pick it up, savoring the very last new Donald Westlake novel we’d ever see … except, as the gloomy and fatalistic Dortmunder himself might have predicted, it’s not the last one after all. Charles Ardai, novelist and founder of Hard Case Crime publishers, announced a few days later that he would be publishing a never-before-seen Westlake novel in April: titled Memory, the book tells the story of a man trying to rebuild his life after a savage beating by a cuckolded husband costs him his memory. . . .

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Faking Knossos

July 24, 2009
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Faking Knossos

From Freud, to Joyce, to Hilda Doolittle, and Robert Graves, many of the twentieth-century’s most influential artists and intellectuals have, through their work, demonstrated an obsession with the roots of Western culture in ancient Minoan civilization. The source of this phenomenon, as Cathy Gere argues in her new book Knossos and the Prophets of Modernism, can be traced in large part to British archaeologist Arthur Evans’ coetaneous discovery of the palace of Knossos on Crete.

Beginning in the Spring of 1900 Evans engaged in an unprecedented project to not only unearth the ancient Minoan civilization, but to recreate it, commissioning a cadre of artists and architects like Piet de Jong, and Swiss artist Émile Gilliéron to reconstruct the city’s ancient buildings out of reinforced concrete, and piece together sparse fragments of Minoan frescoes with artwork of their own. The result, as Mary Beard notes in her review of Gere’s book for the August New York Review of Books, was a “radical blurring of the boundary between authentic Minoan artifact” and modern fakes.

Yet despite its historical inaccuracies, as Gere shows, Evans’ work gained intense popularity amongst modern interpreters who found in his fanciful reconstruction at Crete, the ancient pagan . . .

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