Displaying articles for: May 2011


That we are technologically impoverished when it comes to the aggression of nature in general – and the Mississippi River specifically – is a cautionary thematic in American life.  Our relative helplessness in the face of today’s cresting is a reminder of that, and – as far as this column is concerned – is also a call to explore some books and music that capture our fraught relationship to the river’s duality of prelapsarian calm and hellish ferocity.  With some works related to the region’s non-fluid history, and the future of climate changed, tossed in for good measure.


Powering the Dream

With this stimulating, surprising, meticulously researched book, Alexis Madrigal confers on the green technology movement the valuable gift of historical perspective, a roadmap of past failures and triumphs that can help our society today to form a sensible prospectus for our future survival and escape from eco-apocalypse. Digging deep into the record of alternate energy schemes and projects extending as far back as the 1830s, Madrigal lays down a saga of visionary inventors, enthusiastic or fickle citizens, millionaire robber-baron investors, self-serving charlatans, far-seeing or short-sighted bureaucrats, hardy pioneers, altruistic saviors, and starry-eyed philosophers, all of whom played a part at one time or another in striving to deliver new and improved sources of power to the species and liberate us from drudgery--while hopefully getting rich in the meantime.


Who Shot the Water Buffalo?

The author photo of Ken Babbs on the dust jacket of his first solo novel, Who Shot the Water Buffalo?, depicts a jovial, burly, silver-maned fellow wearing an insignia-laden Armed Forces leather jacket. He looks like anybody's unassuming Foxy Grandpa, ready for a night out with his bowling league or a BBQ at the AmVets. But of course, Babbs is operating undercover. One of the original Merry Pranksters, a true Child of the Sixties, legatee of the Ken Kesey canon, Babbs is more Holy Goof than AARP resident of Florida-as-God's-Waiting-Room. Now he's chosen to return to his fabled past--specifically, his Vietnam War service in the early 1960s--in order to deliver a novel based on his firsthand experiences of that grim and absurd conflict, with an emphasis on the absurdity.


The New Cool

A utopian fantasy: If I were a billionaire, I would purchase one copy of The New Cool for every politician in the United States, from Podunk town council member to POTUS.  Then, employing the arcane superpowers which Glenn Beck imagines George Soros possesses, I would force each politico to put aside any and all tasks, no matter how vital, until they had read and deeply internalized Bascomb's inspiring narrative.


Duncan the Wonder Dog

At nearly 400 pages, Duncan the Wonder Dog, the debut graphic novel by self-taught wunderkind Adam Hines is merely the opening salvo in what the artist forecasts will be a 2600-page epic in nine volumes, to be completed over the next twenty-five years,  all about the fate of sentient beasts in an alternate timeline (otherwise resembling our own era) where "animal rights" means arguing with a weeping cow about why it needs to die for the benefit of its human overlords.  Not since Dave Sim launched Cerebus on its three- decades-long road to completion has a creator embarked on such an ambitious and perhaps foolishly grandiose project.  But judging by the obsessive meticulousness, craft and talent on display in Duncan, Hines stands a good chance of fulfilling his vision, barring a chance mortal encounter with a rogue pitbull objecting to any of his sentiments.


July 28: Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin eloped on this day in 1814.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).