Category: Books

  • American Idyll

    From the Digital Journalist: For a more perceptive and profound patriotism immerse yourself in Burk Uzzle’s latest book, A Family Named Spot. Here you will find some of the eccentricities and idiosyncrasies that make this country great, all displayed unabashedly and without apology or sentimentality. They are also portrayed without disdain but with great affection. On the lid of his camera case Uzzle has inscribed the words “Celebrate, don’t incriminate,” which is an indication of his affinity with his subjects, whether they are people or landscapes. Here.
  • Review: The Few And The Proud

    The Few and the Proud: Marine Corps Drill Instructors in Their Own Words The Few And The Proud; Marine Corps Drill Instructors In Their Own Words, by Larry Smith.
    [rating:4/5] Okay, if I gave out C+ or B-, this would be there. The book contains profiles and interviews of various drill instructors from the WW2 era to today. Some of these are very interesting, and others are not. “There was a kid, some bohunk kid from Mississippi or somplace who didn’t know his left foot from his right, kept marching badly. The drill sergeant walked over, very cordial and sweet, and said to him, ‘Are you having trouble, keeping the rhythm of the march?’ And the kid said, ‘Yes, Sergeant.’ He said, ‘Well you seem to be having trouble knowing which foot to pivot on when we’re making those fast turns.’ And the kid said, ‘That’s right, Sergeant.’ So the D.I. lifted up his foot and he slammed it down on the kid’s foot and he said, ‘Now, pivot on the one that hurts.’ I never forgot that.” That one was from the 50s. Here’s a guy from the present day, Will Post: “The thing that really ticked me off in Kosovo was, you know, they called this crap peacekeeping. How do we keep peace? We kill the bad guys. If you act up, we’re going to kill you. After what happened in Kosovo when the bad guys shot at my guys, I believe that 99 percent of other units would have let go and just radioed in. But I asked the Marines, I didn’t know if any of my guys were hit yet, and I asked them, Can you see them shooting? They said yes. Are they shooting at you? They yelled back to me yes. I said, ‘Kill ’em. Kill ’em.’ And that’s why we wound up doing what we did. Peacekeeping to me is horseshit. It only takes one bullet to end your war, and I’ll be damned if it’s going to happen to one of my Marines on my watch because of being restrained. And those Marines understood: My God. This ain’t peacekeeping. These people are trying to kill us. You turn your back on them for one minute, they will kill you. Damn right.” Another bit from Will Post: “As for Iraq, a lot of my friends, first sergeants and sergeants major are over there, and they report the Marines are just performing superbly. Nearly all Marines are chomping at the bit to get over there. You don’t hear them complaining about deployment time. This is what they came in the Marine Corps to do. They’re warriors, dealing with snipers and IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices; I’m old school. I call them booby traps, because that’s what they are. Mostly, it’s very frustrating, but they’re doing their job wonderfully, and as usual 99.9 percent of the stuff that’s going on don’t make the papers, just the bad stuff. The people over there absolutely love them.” The Few And The Proud; Marine Corps Drill Instructors In Their Own Words, by Larry Smith.
  • Review: In the Belly of the Green Bird; The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq

    In the Belly of the Green Bird : The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq In the Belly of the Green Bird; The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, by Nir Rosen.
    [rating:4/5] Nir Rosen’s book gives us something I hadn’t seen much before- the view of an occupied Iraq from the Arabic point of view: A nervous soldier asked me to go explain the situation to the bespectacled staff sergeant, who had been attempting to calm the situation by telling the demonstrators, who did not speak English, that the U.S. patrol meant no harm. He finally lost his temper when and Iraqi told him gently, “You must go.” “I have the weapons,” the sergeant said. “You back off.” “Let’s get the fuck out!” one marine shouted to another, as the tension increased. I was certain that a shove, a tossed stone, or a shot fired could have provoked a massacre and turned the city violently against the American occupation. Finally, the marines retreated cautiously around a corner, as the worshipers were held back by their own men. Women peered at the marines from behind cracked open doors and children waved to them and gave them a thumbs-up. Rosen, a Turk, is able to travel and speak with the Iraqi people, imams, and fighters, in a way that I have not seen anywhere else. He carefully details the change in Iraq from the heady liberation, the growth of the insurgency, and today’s sectarian strife: Haidar was the father or two children and a frail man, with an attenuated body made even smaller by the immense turban he wore that pressed down on his large ears. Wide eyes and a long nose protruded from his long, thin face, made longer by a beard. In Moqtada’s prison, he was chained to a column and beaten. He claims he was also tortured with electric shocks. Haidar’s forehead is scarred because his keepers bashed it into a column. He claims there were about thirty-five detainees in the prison, including a twelve-year-old accused of homosexuality and a fourteen-year-old who stole money. Haidar was finally released after his face was broadcast on TV as a missing person and representatives from the seminary pressured Moqtada’s office. His true “crime” had been some public statements blaming Moqtada’s men for a murder back in April 2003. As a westerner, it did get hard keeping track of who is who. Rosen interviews so many key figures that it’s often an effort to keep up. But it’s so worthwhile. His is one missing viewpoint in most American minds. My last night I sat with my friends on Sandra, my favorite fresh fruit juice and ice cream place, happy that the owner still recognized me and remembered my usual drink, a strawberry and banana milkshake. One friend, a Sunni, confided to me that things had been much better under Saddam. Another friend was annoyed that Iraqis could be celebrating Eid and ignoring the horror all around them. Yet, he said, “They could level all of Baghdad and it would still be better than Saddam. At least we have hope.” A few weeks later the same friend e-mailed me in despair: “I’m living here in the middle of shit, a civil war will happen I’m sure of it… You can’t be comfortable talking with a man until you know if he is Shia or Sunni…People don’t trust each other…To be clear, now Shia are Iranians for the Sunni, and Sunni are Salafi terrorists for the Shia. We have a civil war here; it is only a matter of time, and some peppers to provoke it.” In the Belly of the Green Bird; The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq, by Nir Rosen. Grade: B
  • Review: Keep Sweet; Children of Polygamy

    Keep Sweet; Children of Polygamy, by Debbie Palmer & Dave Perrin. Grade, regular reader: D; Polygamy-obsessed: B.
    Picked up a signed copy of Keep Sweet at a small bookstore in Creston, BC, just a few kilometers from where the events in the book took place. The inscription from Debbie Palmer, “Hope you enjoy” struck me as odd from the start, but especially when I got to this paragraph: Early one Friday morning, I was stuck in the only bathroom in the house, vomiting. I threw up green, slimy liquid, then was hit with a terrible attack of diarrhea. Children soon started pounding on the door. Sharp pains stabbed my right side, and a flush of fever left me sweating and weak. I crumpled in a ball onto the floor, unconcerned that I was lying in my own mess. A stern command from Daddy brought me to my feet, and I unlocked the door. Hope you enjoy? Um, okay. This book isn’t what I thought it would be. Coming from a woman who left polygamy after three tough marriages and apparent trauma, you expect a strong voice speaking out against, what I would think she feels, is a lifestyle incompatible with equal rights for women. But Palmer isn’t that speaker. She was a believer and her story seems pretty honest. She takes some shots, but then portrays herself as almost an idiot. The book is less an anti-polygamy diatribe from an exile than a look into the fundamentalist religion of intense faith and, often, poverty. It is a religion at odds with Canadian and US law: Uncle Isaac called the whole family to evening meetings and firesides. He would read from a book called Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. Over and over he told us, “When it is my time to die, which could be anytime, none of you will ever see my face again, let alone the face of Christ, if you are not prepared to suffer as Christ suffered. You people cannot expect to slide into the celestial kingdom on someone else’s coattails. You’ve got to suffer and sacrifice and be maligned and hated. Do you think the world will love you if you’re doing the Lord’s will? We can be dull, stupid, and common like all the other seagulls on the shore fighting for the rotten, stinking fish, or we can soar like Jonathan Livingston Seagull into the next life with a celestial vision.” Uncle Isaac was firece and bold and we loved it. I became determined I would be a high-flying seagull, no matter what the pain or sacrifice. Put aside the polygamy, the religion here is fierce and fundamental. The polygamist leaders in Keep Sweet are very intense in their beliefs, and the religion is portrayed by Palmer as one where fear is the key motivation: Joseph White Musser decreed the Lord required us to bring our earthly needs and desires under subjugation “every whit” before we’d be allowed to parent these choice spirits. When a woman was married to a man for all eternity, she shouldn’t think she could let her passions run loose in the way of the gentile world. He said the Lord’s commandment to multiply and replenish the earth has an order. “We watch the animals of the earth and see that they follow the natural order the Lord has designed for them. Therefore we must counsel together as husbands and wives and find out the time when we may conceive, and otherwise bring the passions of the flesh under control so our energy will be used in serving the Lord.” This commandment weighed heavily on the woman; if she deceived her husband and did not inform him of the proper times, she would be guilty of adulterating the birth canal, and the consequences would be “dire and severe.” There was a short verse at the end of the passage: “Sow in the morn thy seed, In the eve hold not thy hand.” I wish this book had been edited more tightly. It seems as if Palmer is trying to get every last detail and every event in here, and a lot of it doesn’t move the story along. And the book ends before she leaves the group. But I think Palmer tells it the way it was, and often it’s as unflattering to her as it is to the fundamentalist religion she left behind. Don’t read this book expecting to find a hero, or even a sympathetic character. It’s more interesting as an insight into religion. I think that was most valuable to me: reading the experiences of someone who spent some time around polygamist prophet LeRoy S. Johnson and other insights into the FLDS fundamentalist mormon religion: We were truly blessed that our prophet and his apostles visited Canada every three months now so they could update us on what God had in mind for his people. They arrived shortly after the gentile media made a big fuss about the United States being the first world power to build a spaceship and send a man to walk on the moon. Newspapers, radio, and television were talking non-stop about beating Russia in the race for space. We were all excited, and most everyone managed to find a television to watch “the moonwalk” over and over again. Uncle Isaac reminded us that our prophet had said, “God would never, worlds without end, allow a man to walk on the moon. The moon and all the celestial bodies in the heavens were protected from man by God, and He would never allow man to reach any of His creations off this earth.” That certainly dampened the excitement in our group, and some of the kids were even wondering if the prophet had been wrong. We all stopped talking about it until he arrived to explain to us why the newspapers and television were contradicting what he’d told us. We were relieved to find out how Satan had inspired the government of the United States to create fake pictures of the moonwalk in order to further trick and confuse people on Earth. After the meeting, everyone was distraught to discover the lengths the devil would go to make people “believe a lit and be damned.” Jan immediately included the prophet’s teachings about the treachery of the gentile nations in our classes at school so we wouldn’t be tempted to believe what we heard on television or happened to read. We just needed to be very sure to remember that Satan’s number-one tool to deceive and destroy people through temptation was television. Keep Sweet; Children of Polygamy, by Debbie Palmer & Dave Perrin. Grade, regular reader: D; Polygamy-obsessed: B.
  • Review: Dispatches from the Edge

    Dispatches from the Edge : A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival Dispatches from the Edge, by Anderson Cooper. Grade: A. Don’t mistake my high rating of this book for any vindication of broadcast media. I don’t watch TV news, finding it generally shallow. And before I quote from the book, showing you some of Cooper’s observations, I’ve got to ask, did he really need three photos of himself on the book jacket? There he is looking serious in Africa. There he is looking serious in a hurricane. There he is looking serious after Katrina. He’s got that serious-looking squint going down, but in photos inside the book, you’ll actually see him with his eyes open. That said, it’s a great book that gives you the feel for crisis reporting:

    In Baghdad in 2005 the list of what you can’t do is much longer than the list of what you can. You can’t: eat in a restaurant; go to the movies; hail a taxi; go out at night; stroll down the street; stand in a crowd; stay in one spot too long; use the same route; get stuck in traffic; forget to barricade your door at night; neglect to speak in code when using walkie-talkies; or go anywhere without armed guards, communication devices, an ID, a Kevlar vest, or a multi-vehicle convoy. You can’t forget you’re a target.

    Other than that, it’s not so bad.

    Cooper writes about covering international crisis in Iraq, Bosnia, Niger, Rwanda, and Somalia:

    I arrived back in Nairobi and showered the dust from my hair, lathered my body, pried the dirt from my finger- and toenails. I put on fresh clothes, went to an italian restaurant, ate pasta, drank passion fruit juice, watched the TV above the bar. I’d been there, now I was here. A short plane ride, a few hundred miles, another world, light years away.

    I finished my meal. A cool breeze blew through the restaurant. When I breathed deeply, however, I was suddenly assaulted by a smell. Smoke, rot, flesh, and food- it was the smell of Somalia, and it came like a stiletto stab out of the shadows. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. My clothes were clean, so was my skin. For a moment I thought it was my imagination, a hallucination brought on by the heat and my fever. Then I realized that it was coming from my boots. I had only one pair, and the smell of that place had soaked into the leather, worked itself into the soles. Just that morning, in Baidoa, getting pictures of a dead donkey, I’d stepped into a pool of blood. Who knew what else I’d walked through?

    From the chaotic aftermath of Katrina:

    The Scientologists are here too. Kirstie Alley arrived with a bunch of them, and John Travolta is around as well. No one beats Steven Seagal, though. He’s not here with any group. I saw him late one night dressed in a cop uniform, out on patrol with some deputies from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department. He’s been going out with their SWAT team.

    “Seagal’s tight with the sheriff in Jefferson,” a New Orleans cop tells me later. “There’s a bar where a lot of cops hang out, and I remember a couple years ago Seagal comes in with those guys and takes out a framed eight-by ten photo of himself and fucking hangs it on the wall.”

    “Get out of here,” I say, “no way.”

    “I shit you not,” he says. “As soon as he left, a couple of us took out our pistols and shot it. Blew the fucking thing off the wall. One bullet actually went right through and hit a car-rental place next door.”

    Dispatches from the Edge, by Anderson Cooper. Grade: A.
  • Gross-Out Magazine Shock Comes to the U.S.

    From PDN: Through a spokesperson, Shock editors declined to be interviewed for this story, though the company did provide an advance copy of the magazine for review. The first issue of Shock is a medley of photojournalism essays, paparazzi, and upsetting images including a self-immolating protestor and a child held hostage with a blade to her throat. Shock borrows the celebrity tabloid look of its French counterpart, but with less nudity; it’s more PG-13 than R. This issue has just five advertisements, for JVC, Bowflex, Girls Gone Wild, a cell phone service and a film school. Here.
  • Review: Blue Nude

    Blue Nude : A Novel Blue Nude, by Elizabeth Rosner.
    [rating:4/5] It’s about a painter and a woman who models nude for art classes. He’s German, she’s Jewish. He has a studio in Point Reyes. She lives in The City. San Francisco. I want to remember these passages: I was married for a while, she says. To a photographer. Danzig snorts at the idea. They always want to put frames around things, he says. They pretend they’re only telling you what they claim is out there in so-called real life, but really they’re getting in the way just as much as painters are. And this: His photos began getting smaller while the white linen mats around them kept getting larger, surrounding his images with more and more white space. Merav envisioned herself shrinking inside a vast blizzard and dreamed about Gabe building a house with empty rooms, windows too high to look out from. He said he framed things, people, so that he could make them more visible, believing even as he cut off its edges that he was making a thing more real, more seeable. She started wearing clothes in all the colors he couldn’t see to camouflage herself in his landscape, disappear in front of his eyes. The walls of their apartment showed a collection of Merav in parts, close-ups of her feet, hands, hip bones, shoulder blades. The one exception lay in a single photo that showed her entire, taken from behind her back. In a wide-open field stood a wooden picture frame the size of a doorway, balancing upright as if by magic in the middle of nothing. And Merav was walking through it, her arms held out to her sides, her fingertips just brushing the edges of the frame. She was stepping out of it and walking away. Blue Nude, by Elizabeth Rosner.
  • Review: A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

    A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka.
    [rating:5/5] Now I see his energy is all redirected towards this woman and her son- they will become his substitute family. He can speak with them in his own language. Such a beautiful language that anyone can be a poet. Such a landscape- it would make anyone an artist. Blue-painted wooden houses, golden wheat fields, forests of silver birch; slow wide sliding rivers. Instead of going home to Ukraina, Ukraina will come home to him. I have visited Ukraine. I have seen the concrete housing blocks and the fish dead in the rivers. Lewycka’s short novel is the story of a woman whose elderly father (an immigrant from Ukraine) who falls in love with a young woman, Valentina (also from Ukraine) and marries her. The narrator has her doubts all along about the young woman’s intentions. They fight: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” I have slipped into the mongrel language, half English half Ukrainian, fluent and snappy. “Ah-shamed! Ah-shamed!” She snorts. “You shame. No me shame. Why you no visit you mamma grave? Why you no crying, bringin flower? Why you making trouble here?” The thought of my mother lying neglected in the cold ground while this usurper lords it in her kitchen drives me to a new pitch of fury. “Don’t you dare to talk about my mother. Don’t even say her name with your filthy-talking boil-in-the-baggage mouth!” “You mother die. Now you father marry me. You no like. You make trouble. I understand. I no stupid.” She speaks the mongrel language, too. We snarl at each other like mongrels. Another book I picked up in Canada. B.C. this time. The story weaves from discovery to discovery, her parents’ story in WW2 Ukraine, and the detective work involved in ridding Valentina (the other woman) from her father’s life: The detective thrusts the envelope into her hands. Valentina looks confused. “Divorce pepper? I no want divorce.” “No,” says the detective, “the petitioner is Mr. Nikolai Mayevskyj. He is divorcing you.” She stands for a moment in stunned silence. Then she explodes in a ball of fury. “Nikolai! Nikolai! What is this?” she screams at my father. “Nikolai, you crazy dog-eaten-brain graveyard-deadman!” My father has locked himself in his room and turned the radio on full volume. She swings round again to confront the private detective, but he is alreadly slamming the door of his black BMW and driving away with a screech of tyres. She turns on Vera. “You she-cat-dog-vixen flesh-eating witch!” A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, by Marina Lewycka.
  • JPG Magazine

    From JPG Magazine: We’re the great in between: not quite amateur, not quite professional. Some do it for art, some as a kind of visual journal, some because they want to become a professional one day, and some just because we have to. It’s just what we do. Here. Submissions for the next issue will follow the theme “Oops!”
  • Photo Books Show Two Different Iraqs

    From PDN: With the benefit of more time, two recent photo books have tried to show the war from new angles. They take fundamentally different approaches: one from the viewpoint of the American solider, the other from the viewpoint of the Iraqi citizens. Here. The books:
  • Midnight Train to Warsaw

    Though it won’t be published for another eight months, you’ve got to check out the preview to photographer Andrew Faulkner’s book, Midnight Train to Warsaw.
  • The Web This Morning

  • The Web This Morning