“The Universe is vast and we are so small. There is really only one thing we can ever truly control… whether we are good or evil”
– Oma Desala Stargate 1, “Meridian”.
Books are listed in alphabetical order.
The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee’s, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table
US: Feb 2012
We live at a time when food insecurity affects one in seven American households, meaning they lack the resources to provide enough food for themselves and their families. And yet, we continue to treat food as a consumer good, subject to market forces, rather than a public good like electricity or water, made available to everyone. In order to understand why, in a country with such vast resources, so many Americans struggle to eat well, journalist Tracy McMillan went undercover to investigate the American food system. She spent a year working entry-level, minimum-wage (or less) jobs in the farm fields of California, the produce section of a Detroit area Walmart, and the kitchen of a New York City Applebee’s in order to understand how food travels from farm to plate and to try to answer the question of what it would take for all Americans to have access to good, healthy food. The American Way of Eating documents her experience and advocates for a new food movement that works for all Americans, rather than just the most fortunate. Robert Alford
Are You My Mother? captivates due to its almost childlike stare at the places most of us turn away from once we grow up: the strange and embarrassing parts of childhood. Alison Bechdel writes with the brave candor of a child, one who is shrewd and gifted. Her latest graphic memoir examines her baffling mother. It’s a second foray into childhood territory after 2007’s Fun Home, a graphic memoir about her father. Bechdel weaves in accounts of her reading and research as an adult. As her mother puts it, Bechdel has composed a coherent “metabook” with “clear themes”. She manages to do justice to the difficulties in her mom’s life (her marriage to a closeted gay man while pursuing creative interests as a working mom of three), finally seeing her mom’s seeming detachment as a kind of beautiful and accommodating nonchalance. Her mom has always had creative interests beyond her daughter, Alison. As Bechdel finally sees, her mother has passed down both this creative impulse and its necessary, accompanying freedom. Bechdel’s memoir is a dazzling page-turner on the mystery of mothers. Molly Brown
This collection of essays by the iconoclastic Hitchens showcases his restless brilliance. Instead of just writing about North Korea, Hitchens visits Pyongyang and reports on a frightening country whose citizens “are brainwashed into a hatred of others… regimented, coerced and inculcated with a death cult.” A fearless writer, Hitchens submits to waterboarding by American Special Forces to research an article on torture for Vanity Fair. “I don’t want to tell you how little time I lasted… I’m still ashamed about it. If waterboarding isn’t torture, then there’s no such thing as torture. And once you have posed the notorious ticking bomb question, what will you not do? Bring on the thumbscrews, pincers, electrodes and the rack”. Arguably also includes Hitchens’ literary criticism ranging from Orwell to Nabokov to Rowling. It’s a superb collection by one of the greatest essayists of our time. John Grassi
Beginning to See the Light: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll
(University of Minnesota Press)
US: Jul 2012
Ellen Willis believes that social change happens but the need to reevaluate the fight remains. She was a gate-opener who projected the voices that promoted social and political progress. As a journalist, feminist, rock critic and radical, she used her articles for the Villiage Voice, Rolling Stone and The Nation as catalysts for inspiring political, social, and cultural change. Willis’ original journalistic work in addition to the re-release of her essays in the form of these books suggests that we must consider dissident voices and audible critiques as a viable form of knowledge. In the nature of her feminism and political positions, she retakes control of the systems of oppression. Her texts are important, her insight and critiques ring of an equal balance of prophecy and lucidity while constantly inspiring and enraging. Willis inspires her readers to want to be more than Facebook activists or believers in the female-body-will-naturally-shutdown-after-rape myth. And it’s for this reason that her work must be read. Elisabeth Woronzoff
Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock
(Gotham / Penguin)
US: Jun 2012
Big Day Coming is a fact-laden treasure trove that takes place in a magical world where music is as essential as breathing—that is to say, Hoboken, New Jersey. Jarnow gets every detail a fan of Yo La Tengo could want: Ira and Georgia’s first time meeting (at a Feelies show, natch), their first poster, where they played their weekly softball games. Even more important is what Jarnow’s band-friendly biography does with these particulars, culled from old Melody Makers and original interviews: makes the case for Yo La Tengo being the one steadying force in the decades of indie rock glory and bullshit, equally ready to blow minds in the age of zines and MP3s. Even if you can’t tell your Hubley from your Kaplan, big day coming shows how far an unending love of music and a nice attitude can get you. David Grossman
Cookbook writer, world traveler, photographer and Southeast Asian food expert Naomi Duguid’s latest book, Burma: Rivers of Flavor, will first engross you with its exquisite photography and evocative writing, then send you into the kitchen to prepare dishes like chickpea soup with lemongrass and ginger, lima beans with galangal, and standout tomato chutney. Far more than just a cookbook, Burma: Rivers of Flavor, immerses the reader in the country’s cultures and peoples, using narrative, history, photography, and divine recipes. As the Burmese people struggle toward democracy, this beautiful, comprehensively researched book could not be more timely. Diane Leach
Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles, and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever
US: Jul 2012
Dream Team begins in the ‘80s, when the first germinations of using pros in the Olympics began. The building blocks to a great project or enterprise rarely make for interesting reading, hence the notion that while sausage is wonderful, you don’t want to see it made. But because of the personalities involved and the global stage upon which they stood, Dream Team’s best passages often deal with to whom invitations were granted and, more salaciously, to whom they were not. And thankfully, McCallum doesn’t skimp on this subject, which comprised what was, by far, the biggest controversy of the Dream Team. The least interesting part of the 1992 Olympics Dream Team was the games. Here, each colorful player gets several chapters devoted to his backstory, and Jack McCallum doesn’t shy away from portraying the good and the bad. J McCallum has provided sports fans with a wonderful and addictive account of athletes that we thought we already knew everything about. And even if you think you do, reliving it in McCallum’s savvy journalistic voice will provide immense pleasure. Erich Shea
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