Displaying articles for: July 2011

Tomatoland

Reading Tomatoland, Barry Estabrook's hypnotic account of the modern tomato agribusiness and its outliers, one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. Or, more precisely, alternating chapters provoke either tears or astonished guffaws. While we can chuckle at the thought of newly picked Franken-tomatoes falling off speeding trucks, hitting the pavement at 60 MPH and remaining pristine, accounts of hideous birth defects experienced by the children of migrant tomato-field workers exposed to dozens of toxic chemicals, and the slave-like conditions they labor under, is another meal of misery entirely.

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The Big Book of Adventure Stories

Would you like to know the definition of an adventure story? A beautiful Sicilian princess of medieval times is sleeping on the deck of a ship--curtained from prying eyes, and surrounded by her drowsy, similarly beautiful handmaidens--when her ship is rammed by another vessel manned by traitors from her father's court intent on kidnapping her. Plunged into the sea, she swims for land, where she sets a trap for one of the pursuing conspirators. She kills the big man by snaring him and holding him underwater till he drowns. She steals his clothes and armor and sword, makes her way back to the remaining assailant's craft, rouses the surviving loyalists, disarms the second villain in a fair swordfight, declares a boastful victory, and heads for home.

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A Child's Fan Letter

Lee Child writes: "They say the past is another country, and in my case it really was: provincial England at the end of the fifties and the start of the sixties, the last gasp of the post-war era, before it surrendered to the tectonic shift sparked by the Beatles.  My family was neither rich nor poor, not that either condition had much meaning in a society with not much to buy and not much to lack.  We accumulated toys at the rate of two a year: one on our birthdays, and one at Christmas.  We had a big table radio (which we called "the wireless") in the dining room, and in the living room we had a black and white fishbowl television, full of glowing tubes, but there were only two channels, and they went off the air at ten in the evening, after playing the National Anthem, for which some families stood up, and sometimes we saw a double bill at the pictures on a Saturday morning, but apart from that we had no entertainment."

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The Internet of Elsewhere

There's nothing like a good shot of clear-eyed, upbeat globalism to shatter the dreary national myopia and restore our sense of wonder about what really is an amazing contemporary world. Cyrus Farivar's new book provides just such an injection of multicultural journalistic insight. His thesis is remarkably simple and stated clearly in his captivating introduction: "The most fascinating examples of internet-related changes are not happening in Silicon Valley, but rather in far-off, forgotten or overlooked corners of the globe." To illustrate his point, Farivar fixes on four places: South Korea, Senegal, Estonia and Iran. And before you can say "optimized link state routing protocol with frame relay packet switching," he's off!

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The Joaquín Band

Like a valiant explorer setting out through wild uncharted jungles to uncover a long-lost Mayan ruin whose actual existence is only half verifiable, Lori Lee Wilson embarks boldly through a dense thicket of myth and legend in search of the facts surrounding Mexican-American folk hero Joaquín Murrieta, who was either "a light-skinned romantic Robin Hood or Zorro type; a dangerous criminal who died violently; [or] an 'avenging angel' and guerilla rebel chief at war with the Americans and their capitalist tendency to tread on others for the sake of a quick profit." She emerges from her archaeological expedition with the clearest portrait of the man seen in perhaps his whole long and colorful posthumous career, a depiction that weighs all the evidence with care before venturing a composite.

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April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.