Big Box Reuse

The American suburban landscape is fairly strewn with the empty hulks of defunct shopping centers, residue of Kmarts and Wal-Marts and Sam's Clubs bygone. "Thousands of empty big boxes can be found right now all across the country," writes Julia Christensen, and in her first book, Big Box Reuse, a few of these aluminum orphans get a second -- or third, or fourth -- shot at life. Ten communities from Nebraska to Florida find ten creative solutions to their big box dilemmas: In Missouri and North Carolina, Kmarts become a library and a charter school; former Wal-Marts in Wisconsin and Texas turn into a senior center and an indoor go-kart track. One abandoned mega-shed, the bane of Austin, Minnesota, even gets made over as the Spam Museum ("YES, WE DO ANSWER THE INGREDIENTS QUESTION"). Christensen, Luce Visiting Professor of the Emerging Arts at Oberlin College, is an artist by trade, and in presenting photographic evidence of an investigation into adaptive reuse, her book is an exercise in conceptual art. But she also has the architect's eye and something of the architect's mind for the nuances of building typologies and urban form: as big box stores become big box churches and big box courthouses, the cultural perception of the big box type will change, as will the nature of the American city. Which is swell for designers and social scientists, but what about environmentalists? Christensen makes a good case for reuse as architectural recycling, but these big boxes are still car-fed, truck-fed, and interstate-bound.

April 23: " 'A job,' the woman repeated again, smiling, as if I hadn't heard her. 'Would you like one?' "

Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."