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Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

Nick Reding

Review [11.Jan.2010]


Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town
Nick Reding


“It’s one thing for a drug to be associated with sloth, like heroin,” Nick Reding observes in his harrowing journey across the ragged edges of dysfunctional American society at the turn of the 21st century, “but it’s wholly another when a formerly legal and accepted narcotic exists in a one-to-one ratio with the defining ideal of American culture.” The defining ideal that Reding writes of is the trite adage that hard work offers its own rewards and the narcotic that he finds destroying the fabric of Oelwein, Iowa (Pop. 6,000) in this breathless offering of immersion journalism is methamphetamine or “crank”. Reding spent four years in the agricultural and railroad town of Oelwein and four intersecting stories emerge: the deregulation of agribusiness and its impact in lost jobs and lower wages in an economically challenged corner of the nation, the enticement of undocumented workers across the US borders, the war between lawmakers and pharmaceutical manufacturers to control the legal sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, and the monster-in-the-box: meth, “once heralded as the drug that would end the need for all others”. Reding’s tale of economic despair and drug abuse in America’s heartland is violent, sobering, explosive (literally and figuratively), as unstoppable as a meth-induced seizure, and not for the faint of heart. Rodger Jacobs


 

 



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News, Nudity & Nonsense: Irresponsible Writing for Awkward Youth: The Best of Vice Magazine Volume Two, 2003-2008

Vice Magazine


News, Nudity & Nonsense
Vice Magazine


I was never a big fan of Vice magazine. In fact, in my mind as a lifelong New Yorker, nothing epitomized the whole snide transplant hipster vibe that invaded Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan for the lion’s share of the ‘00s than this lewd, crude Canadian pop culture rag which canceled out its occasional dashes of good taste in music (a belated thanks for turning me onto Growing) with irritating pieces on chicks who wear stuffed animal backpacks, glory holes, disturbing photo essays featuring dead cats and passed out immigrants. I wrote Vice off in 2004, utterly repulsed but grateful their back copies were going for big bucks on eBay. Which is why it came as quite a shock when I picked up the second volume of the publication’s anthology of News, Nudity and Nonsense after a good five years of not reading Vice to discover the editors seem to have been bitten by the William Murrow bug. Sure, the layout is a blatant rip off of The Believer, and there is still plenty of no-brow, quasi-intellectual juvenilia to remind you with whom you are contending. However, it is rather excellently balanced with some amazing, insightful pieces of literary journalism, including interviews with such a wide swath of subjects from autistic animal scientist and HBO docudrama muse Temple Grandin to legendary Life Magazine photojournalist Harry Benson to Ghostface Killah. There are also profiles on Bangkok street gangs, North Korean refugees, survivors of bear maulings, a reporter who was embedded with the IRA, and even a guy who served as the body double for Uday Hussein. They even have a story about Sammy Davis, Jr. and his alleged ties to the Church of Satan in the early ‘70s. While many Vice loyalists certainly would much rather read yet another parade of Do’s and Don’ts than an interview with American novelist Harry Crews, it’s certainly good to see these guys transcend their own immaturity and utilize their overblown cultural sway to educate their readers rather than bludgeon them with shock and awe. And hey, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Sasha Grey on your cover, either. Ronald Hart


 

 



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Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box, Vol. 1

Jacques Boyreau


Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box, Vol. 1
Jacques Boyreau


Do you remember the first time you ever went to a video store? I’m not talking about Blockbuster, either. I mean those little mom-and-pop joints that sat right beside the laundromat and the Chinese restaurant at your local strip mall, where you would spend a good hour browsing the aisles and studying the interesting, unorthodox artistry that graced the covers of those old VHS boxes. This awesome picture book brought to us by the comic strip scholars at Fantagraphics celebrates that microcosm of our youth with this 200 page book filled with a delightfully odd array of vintage video covers ranging from the well-known (The Terminator, Robocop 2, Death Wish) to the mega-obscure (Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS, Naked Prey, The Blood Spattered Bride). VHS cassettes may be treated like toxic waste in the age of the Blu-ray, but Portable Grindhouse offers that micro minority who still remain faithful to their trusty VCR a long overdue reprieve. Ronald Hart


 

 



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Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang

Zhao Ziyang


Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang
Zhao Ziyang


The year 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, and Zhao Ziyang’s Prisoner of the State was published just one month in advance of the date it happened. Ziyang’s posthumous memoir is his attempt to break the official silence and offer us a fascinating insider’s look at the confusion, bitter debates, and infighting about how the government should have responded to the student demonstrations. Premier Zhao Ziyang was the man who brought liberal change to that nation and who, at the height of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, tried to stop the massacre—for this he was removed from office. Zhao was placed under house arrest shortly after the shootings on Tiananmen Square and remained so until his death in 2005. At some point in 2000, he began to dictate his memoirs. Prisoner of the State provides an excellent history lesson that should be impressed upon one’s mind, much like the famous image of a solitary man standing in front of a line of tanks at Tieneman Square. The courage of that unknown man, of all the demonstrators, should always be remembered. Carmelo Militano


BookTV interview[Video]


 

 



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Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life

Carol Sklenicka


Raymond Carver: A Writer’s Life
Carol Sklenicka


“Courageous” is not an adjective often applied to biographers, but Carol Sklenicka has earned it. In writing the biography of one of America’s most influential writers, Sklenicka has taken great risks; both in choosing such a beloved subject and in her willingness to delve deeply into his complex, sometimes cruel character, which impacted many people still alive to read her words. The book is not only unflinching, but meticulously researched and compulsively readable. Ultimately, it’s impossible not to judge the behaviors of others. In this case, we learn that a writer who was a primary influence for many of us was in fact often a thoughtless, selfish man. But we also learn of his kindness to young writers. What emerges in this biography is a surprising portrait of one our greatest writing talents. Diane Leach


 

 



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Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin

David King


Red Star Over Russia:A Visual History of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin
David King


At first glance, one could easily dismiss David King’s Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to the Death of Stalin as a work of commie propaganda porn, a celebration and sensualization of images that were created specifically to mask the repression of a failing ideology. Yet even with its artsy, fetishistic trappings, Red Star constantly reminds its readers to see the posters as propaganda as well as art, so that the longview comes into focus. After poring over Red Star Over Russia, it’s hard to deny the power of the poster. What is also hard to deny is the fact that, if there are any true Communists left, they won’t be rushing out of their hovels to stand in line for King’s book. If you can afford this hardcover, you probably aren’t a real fellow traveler. But for $50, you can proudly display this book on your coffee table and create your own workers’ paradise—without the blood, without the snow, and without fear of offending the ‘Cheka’ (secret police). Josh Indar


 
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