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Alison Bechdel, MacArthur Fellow, 2014

September 18, 2014
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Alison Bechdel, MacArthur Fellow, 2014

Congratulations to cartoonist and graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, one the 2014 MacArthur Foundation Fellows, or “genius grant” honorees, whose work in comics and narrative has helped to transform and elevate our understanding of women—”Dykes to Watch Out For” in all their expressions, mothers and daughters,  and the implications of social and political changes on those who dwell everyday in a broad variety of female-identified bodies. Additionally, Bechdel is well-known in film studies circles for her duplicitously simple three-question test for gender parity, which has drawn broad attention since first delivered via her 1985 strip “The Rule.”

From the Washington Post:

1) Does it have two female characters?

2) Who talk to each other?

3) About something other than a man?

If the answer to all three questions is yes, the film passes the Bechdel test.

Bechdel is also the subject of two feature-length interviews in Hillary L. Chute’s Outside the Box: Interviews with Contemporary Cartoonists, and a contributor to Critical Inquiry’s special issue Comics & Media, both of which were released this year. Below, see video footage of a Bechdel/Chute interview from 2011, when Chute visited Bechdel at her home in Jericho, Vermont:

To read more about . . .

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Rachel Sussman and The Oldest Living Things in the World

September 15, 2014
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Rachel Sussman and The Oldest Living Things in the World

 

This past week, Rachel Sussman’s colossal photography project—and its associated book—The Oldest Living Things in the World, which documents her attempts to photograph continuously living organisms that are 2,000 years old and older, was profiled by the New Yorker:

To find the oldest living thing in New York City, set out from Staten Island’s West Shore Plaza mall (Chuck E. Cheese’s, Burlington Coat Factory, D.M.V.). Take a right, pass Industry Road, go left. The urban bleakness will fade into a litter-strewn route that bisects a nature preserve called Saw Mill Creek Marsh. Check the tides, and wear rubber boots; trudging through the muddy wetlands is necessary.

The other day, directions in hand, Rachel Sussman, a photographer from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, went looking for the city’s most antiquated resident: a colony of Spartina alterniflora or Spartina patens cordgrass which, she suspects, has been cloning and re-cloning itself for millennia.

Not simply the story of a cordgrass selfie, Sussman’s pursuit becomes contextualized by the lives—and deaths—of our fragile ecological forbearers, and her desire to document their existence while they are still of the earth. In support of the project, Sussman has a series of upcoming events surrounding The Oldest . . .

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Aspiring Adults Adrift

September 12, 2014
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Aspiring Adults Adrift

In 2011, Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift inscribed itself in post-secondary education wonking with all the subtlety of a wax crayon; the book made a splash in major newspapers, on television, via Twitter, on the pages of popular magazines, and of course, inside policy debates. The authors’ argument—drawn from complex data analysis, personal surveys, and a widespread standardized testing of more than 2300 undergraduates from 24 institutions—was simple: 45 percent of these students demonstrated no significant improvement in a range of skills (critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing) during their first two years of study. Were the undergraduates learning once they hit college? The book’s answer was, at best, a shaky “maybe.”

Now, the authors are back with a sequel of sorts: Aspiring Adults Adrift, which follows these students through the rest of their undergraduate careers and out into the world. The findings this time around? Recent graduates struggle to obtain decent jobs, develop stable romantic relationships, and assume civic and financial responsibilities. Their transitions, like their educational experiences, are mired in much deeper and more systemic obstacles than a simple “failure to launch.”

The book debuted last week with four-part coverage at Inside Higher Ed. Since then, pundits and reviewers have started to weigh in; below are just a few . . .

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Ashley Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen

September 11, 2014
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Ashley Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen

Army Spc. Ryan Yurchison, 27, overdosed on drugs after struggling with PTSD, on May 22, 2010, in Youngstown, Ohio. He was from New Middletown, Ohio. His bedroom was photographed in September 2011.

(caption via Slate)

From Philip Gourevitch’s Introduction to Bedrooms of the Fallen by Ashley Gilbertson:

These wars really are ours—they implicate us—and when our military men and women die in far off lands, they do so in our name. wanted to depict what it means that they are gone. Photographs of the fallen, or of their coffins or their graves, don’t tell us that. But the places they came from and were supposed to go back to—the places they left empty—do tell us.

See more images from the book via an image gallery at Hyperallergic.

. . .

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Peter Bacon Hales (1950–2014)

August 28, 2014
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Peter Bacon Hales (1950–2014)

University of Chicago Press author, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago, dedicated Americanist, photographer, writer, cyclist, and musician Peter Bacon Hales (1950–2014) died earlier this week, near his home in upstate New York. Once a student of the photographers Garry Winogrand and Russell Lee, Hales obtained his MA and PhD from the University of Texas at Austin, and launched an academic career around American art and culture that saw him take on personal and collaborative topics as diverse as the history of urban photography, the Westward Expansion of the United States, the Manhattan Project, Levittown, contemporary art, and the geographical landscapes of our virtual and built worlds. He began teaching at UIC in 1980, and went on to become director of their American Studies Institute. His most recent book, Outside the Gates of Eden: The Dream of America from Hiroshima to Now, was published by the University of Chicago Press earlier this year.

***

From Outside the Gates of Eden:

 

“We live, then, second lives, and third, and fourth—protean lives, threatened by the lingering traces of our mistakes, but also amenable to self-invention and renewal. . . . The cultural landscape is hazy:  it could . . .

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Carl Zimmer on the Ebolapocalypse

August 7, 2014
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Carl Zimmer on the Ebolapocalypse

Carl Zimmer is one of our most recognizable—and acclaimed—popular science journalists. Not only have his long-standing New York Times column, “Matter,” and his National Geographic blog, The Loom, helped us to digest everything from the oxytocin in our bloodstream to the genetic roots of mental illness in humans and animals, they also have helped to circulate cutting-edge science and global biological concerns to broad audiences.

One of Zimmer’s areas of journalistic expertise is providing context for the latest research on virology, or, as the back cover of his book A Planet of Viruses explains: “How viruses hold sway over our lives and our biosphere, how viruses helped give rise to the first life-forms, how viruses are producing new diseases, how we can harness viruses for our own ends, and how viruses will continue to control our fate for years to come.” 

It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that with regard to recent predictions of an Ebolapocalypse Zimmer stands ready to help us interpret and qualify risk with regard to Ebola and the biotech industry’s push for experimental medications and treatments.

At The Loom, Zimmer shows a strand of the ebola virus as an otherworldly cul-de-sac against a dappled pink light. As he writes, we still have no antiviral treatment . . .

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Advanced praise for The Getaway Car

July 9, 2014
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Advanced praise for The Getaway Car

On our forthcoming The Getaway Car: A Donald Westlake Nonfiction Miscellany, from Kirkus Reviews (read the review in full here):

Westlake (1933–2008), who wrote under his own name and a handful of pseudonyms, was an award-winning writer of crime, mystery and detective novels; short stories; screenplays; and one children’s book. University of Chicago Press promotions director Stahl thinks this collection of Westlake’s nonfiction will please his fans; it’s likely these sharp, disarmingly funny pieces will also create new ones. The editor includes a wide range of writing: interviews, letters, introductions to Westlake’s and others’ work, and even recipes. “May’s Famous Tuna Casserole” appeared in the cookbook A Taste of Murder. May is the “faithful companion” of Westlake’s famous protagonist John Dortmunder, “whose joys are few and travails many.” Another of his culinary joys, apparently, was sautéed sloth. One of the best essays is “Living With a Mystery Writer,” by Westlake’s wife, Abby Adams: “Living with one man is difficult enough; living with a group can be nerve-wracking. I have lived with the consortium which calls itself Donald Westlake for five years now, and I still can’t always be sure, when I get up in the morning, which of the . . .

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“Never have empty bedrooms looked so full.”

July 3, 2014
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gilbertson_bedrooms cover

The Fourth of July will be marked tomorrow, as usual, with barbecues and fireworks and displays of patriotic fervor.

This year, it will also be marked by the publication of a book that honors patriotism–and counts its costs–in a more somber way: Ashley Gilbertson’s Bedrooms of the Fallen. The book presents photographs of the bedrooms of forty soldiers–the number in a platoon–who died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. The bedrooms, preserved by the families as memorials in honor of their lost loved ones, are a stark, heartbreaking reminder of the real pain and loss that war brings. As NPR’s The Two-Way put it, “Never have empty bedrooms looked so full.”

 

{Marine Corporal Christopher G. Scherer, 21, was killed by a sniper on July 21, 2007, in Karmah, Iraq. He was from East Northport, New York. His bedroom was photographed in February 2009.}

A moving essay by Gilbertson tells the story of his work on the project, of how he came to it after photographing the Iraq War, and about the experience of working with grieving families, gaining their trust and working to honor it. As Philip Gourevitch writes in his foreword, “The need to see America’s twenty-first-century war dead, . . .

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The detractor and the Donald

June 16, 2014
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The detractor and the Donald

In Terror and Wonder, Pulitzer Prize–winning Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin assembled his most memorable writing from the past decade, as well as some polemical observations on the changing context of the built environment. Among them are two that have taken on a new life in the past couple of weeks: “The Donald’s Dud: Trump’s Skyscraper, Shortened by the Post-9/11 Fear of Heights, Reaches Only for Mediocrity” and “A Skyscraper of Many Faces: In Trump’s Context-Driven Chicago Skyscraper, Beauty Is in the Eye—and the Vantage Point—of the Beholder.” The first piece decries the original design, leaving little room for ambivalence; the other considers the finished construction, and all in all, mostly lauds its structure.

Fast forward. Trump’s skyscraper has now been branded unequivocally as part of Trump’s real estate empire, in twenty-foot-tall block letters that spell out his eponym. Kamin unleashed some sharp criticism of the sign in a Chicago Tribune column last week, pointing the blame at city government for allowing this particular type of self-aggrandizement to continue due to obscure politicking:

“It’s a lack of sophisticated design guidelines as well as the teeth to enforce them. Trump’s sign isn’t the only offender — it’s just the most egregious — in a city where skyline branding has . . .

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World Ocean(s) Day

June 11, 2014
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World Ocean(s) Day

This past weekend, on June 8th to be exact, the Ocean Project and the World Ocean Network celebrated World Oceans Day. The event recognizes that there is “one world ocean” connecting the planet, and to this end, was known as “World Ocean Day” until 2009, when the “s” was added in accordance with the resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly, which officially designated the annual date as “World Oceans Day.” Even this semantic quandry should evidence the passion yielded by those who champion and protect our hydrosphere—with that in mind, we’re revisiting The Deep, a project that launched new endeavors in “tidal” acquisitions for the Press, and has led to a remarkable list in the oceanic sciences (under the helm of Christie Henry, editorial director of the Sciences and Social Sciences).

The Deep explores the deepest realms of the ocean, revealing a cast of more than 200 sometimes terrifying and most mesmerizing creatures in crystalline detail, some photographed for the very first time.  The website associated with the book features an image gallery,an animated sampler, and beautiful pages, including the below profile of the glowing sucker octopus, one of the world’s few bioluminescent creatures, native to the North Atlantic:

 

In the wake of The Deep (pun . . .

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