• print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Gary Panter

    Gary Panter is a difficult artist to pin down. He’s a cartoonist, best known for his buzz-cut everyman, Jimbo. He performs light shows, makes puppets, constructs tiny cardboard architectural models, and writes and draws an animated Internet show. He’s done illustration work and album art. He’s even been a production designer, creating much of the surreal set for Pee-wee’s Playhouse (the job earned him three Emmy Awards), and an interior designer, for a children’s playroom in Philippe Starck’s Paramount Hotel in New York. But this two-volume monograph makes the case for his paintings.

    Since

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Lives of the Artists

    Formalist art critics used to say that the life of an artist was irrelevant to an understanding of his or her work,” Calvin Tomkins writes in the preface to Lives of the Artists, a collection of New Yorker profiles published over the past ten or so years. “In my experience, the lives of contemporary artists are so integral to what they make that the two cannot be considered in isolation.” For critics of a certain generation—me, for instance—educated by art historians more inclined to mapping Lacan’s L Schema than outlining an artist’s formative years, Tomkins’s statement is like a grenade.

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Hurry Down Sunshine

    Memoirs proliferate like kudzu,” wrote Randy Cohen in a recent issue of the New York Times Magazine. A quick perusal of the next week’s book review confirmed his assertion: memoirs of a drunken dad, of eating in China, of marriage to a Maori, and of the death of a child. Memoirs that chronicle divorce, widowhood, spiritual quests, and the renovation of charming properties in Tuscany and the south of France fairly explode from bookstore windows; Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle has been ensconced on the best-seller list for more than 128 weeks—and counting. Memoirs, it seems, are us.

    Into

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    The Anglo Files: A Field Guide to the British

    This probably isn’t a good time to fall in love with the English. Their economy—subject to an even more inflated property market than ours—is poised for a fall. Their boozy, clever, and always-for-hire Hitchens-style newspaper hacks are starting to wear thin. And with just about the worst diet in the EU and an unquenchable thirst for our trashiest cultural exports (from Bret Easton Ellis to Desperate Housewives), it’s not always easy telling them apart from, well, us.

    It’s a land where surface has always mattered most, and as Sarah Lyall points out in The Anglo Files, her amusing, perceptive,

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    Looking for Anne of Green Gables: The Story of L. M. Montgomery and Her Literary

    When asked why she had decided to give red hair to her famous heroine, Anne Shirley (better known as Anne of Green Gables to legions of little girls the world over), author Maud Montgomery replied, “I didn’t. It was red.” The question of whether Anne, the passionate orphan with a temper and a penchant for puffy sleeves, really sprang fully formed from her creator’s head—Athena to Montgomery’s Zeus—is the driving force behind Irene Gammel’s new book, Looking for Anne of Green Gables, published in time for the first novel’s centenary. Gammel dismantles that legend both exhaustively and lovingly

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    The Book of Calamities: Five Questions About Suffering and Its Meaning

    For three years, Peter Trachtenberg traveled around the world seeking out people in anguish. He looked for those whose suffering transcended “garden-variety sorrow”: Sri Lankan children orphaned by the tsunami; twin girls with a rare genetic disease that made their skin continually blister; Andrea Yates, the Texas mother who drowned her five children in the bathtub. With The Book of Calamities, he attempts to categorize and comprehend their suffering, which he defines as the “experience of chaos,” a “staticky primal layer of experience that is beyond the reach of language.”

    Trachtenberg is

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    NATO: The Military Codification System for the Ordering of Everything in the World by Suzanne Treister

    The borders of NATO member nations were once hair triggers for nuclear war with the Soviets. But in the post-cold-war era, NATO appears more like a geopolitical relic than a key piece in the apocalyptic endgame between superpowers. Still, the alliance remains a vast and powerful one, and as is always the case with things military, there exists a heroically proportioned bureaucracy. Artist Suzanne Treister makes canny use of one of its elements, the classification system of NATO’s Maintenance and Supply Agency, for her watercolors. The agency has a designated code for an entire world of military

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  • print • Sept/Oct/Nov 2008

    MORTALITY PLAY

    It’s best not to struggle too much while reading Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Julian Barnes’s chew on death, religion, family, writing, and memory, among other things. Ideas, arguments, quotations, and anecdotes pursue one another across the pages, dogleg, vanish, and resurface. Signposts and footholds are scarce, and there are no chapter breaks or headings. No matter: Barnes is the most companionable of tour guides, quipping and joshing, recounting family stories, citing nineteenth-century French writers, and asking would-you-rather questions like a parlor gamester.

    A sample handful of pages

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2008

    Flick Lane

    But much of the time she felt good. . . . It was as if the conflagration of her bouts with Karim had cast a special light on everything, a dawn light after a life lived in twilight. It was as if she had been born deficient and only now been gifted the missing sense.

    —Monica Ali, Brick Lane

    MONICA ALI’S BRICK LANE is certainly one of the most acclaimed novels of the past few years. The 2003 debut was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, and its author was named one of Granta’s best young British novelists based

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2008

    Uncreative Writing

    If Kenneth Goldsmith were writing this column—well, for starters, he wouldn’t write it; he’d turn in a piece of found art that had nothing to do with anybody’s book collection, or he’d transcribe our conversation, with all the ums and uhs (mostly mine—he’s on the Oscar Wilde end of the articulateness spectrum), or he’d plagiarize some other column and transform it into a sound poem by singing it and then post it to UbuWeb, the on­line repository for the avant-garde arts that he founded in 1996. His position on writing is as follows: Modernism and postmodernism are over, and the literary arts

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2008

    Jesuits and Jesse James

    Ron Hansen is an outlaw among outlaws—and not just because his first two novels, Desperadoes (1979), about the Dalton Gang, and the pen/Faulkner-nominated The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (1983), reimagined the Wild West. As a practicing Jesuit (he serves as deacon in his San Jose congregation) who embraces his faith, he is a lone rider in a largely secular literary world, integrating themes of morality, grace, suffering, redemption, and resurrection into his work while respecting the fiction writer’s oath of withholding judgment. In fact, not until the best-selling

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  • print • June/July/Aug 2008

    Highways, Hamlet, and Pancakes

    Thirty-five years ago, Stephen Shore set out from Manhattan on a road trip to photograph America. In addition to taking photos that would begin to form his series Uncommon Places, he recorded the details of what would become a near-legendary journey. On the anniversary this summer of the six-week expedition, Phaidon is publishing A Road Trip Journal ($250), a limited-edition facsimile of Shore’s documentation, photographic and otherwise. (The press has also just released an engaging and thorough survey book on the photographer as part of its Contemporary Artists monograph series.) The work

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