Category: Book Reviews

Three (fiction) books about autism

I’m fascinated by fiction books about high-functioning autism, despite the fact that I have no significant relationships to people with the condition.

speed-of-dark
Each of the three books: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Rosie Effect and The Speed of Dark tell narratives from the 1st-person point-of-view of someone who is high-functioning autistic (Asperger’s syndrome in at least 2 of the books) and fits in and out of society. They are all beautiful, wonderful stories, which portray characters who are loving, kind and at times confused.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAReading is a solitary act, reflecting in this case, the life of the characters, who inhabit their own world. Each novel lulls me into an interior space of imagination, and because there is a spectrum of behavior. I wonder where in the gray area do each of us stand?

And it’s while reading these books, I want to change my perception of the world to be more of that of an autistic mind with an amazing ability to focus and pattern-match, taking the world as a series of literals and interpreting things as-they-are-said rather then as-they-are-implied.

These three books are all great. I’d recommend reading each them.

 

Book Review: Garbage Land

In preparation for my upcoming residency at Recology San Francisco (a.k.a. The Dump), I have been consuming books and films about garbage management. Elizabeth Royte’s Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash is a perfect entry point for those that want to venture beyond compost culture and delve into the real story behind where human waste goes after exiting the home.
garbageland_Cover

The background narrative, which softens the tone into personal exploration rather than polemic, is that Royte wants to find out what happens to her household waste. She meets workers and managers at landfills, recycling centers, and biosolids facilities. We learn about the garbage routes in New York City, massive car shredders and the politics of poop.

The chapter on eWaste — electronic waste such as computers and cell phones — most impacted me, as I live in the heart of laptopia in San Francisco. We already know the sad story of the export of obsolete devices to China and India, where impoverished residents strip out the copper bits by hand, exposing themselves to carcinogens and other toxins. What has stuck with me is the distance we have between our devices, akin to how food is produced and what arrives on our plate.

ewaste_china

The manufacturing industry perpetuates this gap between consumption and destruction. While new laptops, iPhones and iPads satisfy our design sense and device fetish, lobbyists closes down “gray markets” to make refurbishing such devices illegal. eWaste doesn’t get mentioned by Apple, Dell or Verizon. The environmental impact of these devices are not built into the capitalist model.

Royte quietly tunes us into the argument that recycling can be viewed as a panacea. Because many recycle their household waste (which only accounts for 15% of everything that goes to landfill), they feel like they are doing something, but the most effective change can be seen in laws regulating industry. From a personal consumption standpoint, instead of buying green products, less shopping is a far more effective tactic. Yet, the buy-less message has been relegated to the political sidelines such as Buy Nothing Day. Instead buying something labelled green makes us feel good because shopping makes us feel good.

Royte teeters between a sometimes self-indulgent personal narrative, fascinating investigative reporting and pointing out the different sides of the political debate while also providing a history of how we have treated garbage. She also tells of how the bottling industry funded the infamous 1970s anti-pollution where the American Indian sheds a tear while looking at piles of litter. The purpose was to trick consumers into shouldering the burden of recycling rather than entertain legislation for refillable bottles, which would be far more efficient than melting them down.

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In a decade where we have become our own garbageman, this well-written book is still relevant 5 years after being published, which is a long shelf-life for a non-fiction book. Read it.

Elizabeth Royte continues her musings on waste and other topics on her very active blog.

Performa Book launch with Wrath of Kong

If you are in New York this weekend, come on out to P.S. 1 this Saturday for the Performa 07 book launch. We’ll be there in spirit or maybe even in Second Life.

Wrath-group-photo

For Performa07, Second Front performed Wrath of Kong, which mixed the Kong Kong legend with the pop-culture iconography of Donkey Kong.

Featured in the catalogue essay on virtual worlds is an analysis of the early performance art works in Second Life, including work by the Mattes, my own Paradise Ahead series, Patrick Lichty, Gazira Babeli and of course Second Front.

Book Review: A Field Guide to Getting Lost

gettinglost

I began reading this book while I was lost. For the last several hours, I had been riding a rental bike around Berlin with its flat terrain, mixed-up architectural styles and streets whose names perpetually change as they twist along imaginary rivers. At a coffee break in a Turkish cafe in Kreuzberg, I read her introduction which described my day: a deliberate act of surrender where time ceases to matter. I had entered a geographic state of uncertainty — of being lost — where the mind can be fully present. Her field guide came in handy.
Embracing the geographically unfamiliar is an old concept, rooted in histories of adventurers and the imagination of childhood, but our society is drifting towards fixedness. Maps, knowledge and time are increasingly objectively quantified, such that Solnit’s field guide becomes well-needed.
After her powerful introduction follows a series of short plotless narratives— its hard to categorize these texts, which combine her personal history with larger cultural patterns.  She writes of the color blue and speaks of the infinite horizon, the science of molecules and of Yves Klein’s leaping into the void. She meanders about ruins, Blade Runner, punk rock and urban renewal. She discusses Borges’ labyrinths, the Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca and the film, Vertigo. These strands of thought all revolve around themes of getting lost and we fall into the words, not knowing what comes next.
While her personal narratives are less interesting than her ability to wind together historical threads, nevertheless, her own stories are the ones that activate the imagination. This book is a departure point. Like getting lost, it opens up possibilities rather than resolving them. I’d recommend reading it while you are traveling alone, and then you can apply the principles insid

“A Field Guide to Getting Lost”
by Rebecca Solnit

I began reading this book while I was lost. For the last several hours, I had been riding a rental bike around Berlin with its flat terrain, mixed-up architectural styles and streets whose names perpetually change as they twist along imaginary rivers. At a coffee break in a Turkish cafe in Kreuzberg, I read her introduction which described my day: a deliberate act of surrender where time ceases to matter. I had entered a geographic state of uncertainty — of being lost — where the mind can be fully present. Her field guide came in handy.

Embracing the geographically unfamiliar is an old concept, rooted in histories of adventurers and the imagination of childhood, but our society is drifting towards fixedness. Maps, knowledge and time are increasingly objectively quantified, such that Solnit’s field guide becomes well-needed.

After her powerful introduction follows a series of short plotless narratives— its hard to categorize these texts, which combine her personal history with larger cultural patterns.  She writes of the color blue and speaks of the infinite horizon, the science of molecules and of Yves Klein’s leaping into the void. She meanders about ruins, Blade Runner, punk rock and urban renewal. She discusses Borges’ labyrinths, the Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca and the film, Vertigo. These strands of thought all revolve around themes of getting lost and we fall into the words, not knowing what comes next.

While her personal narratives are less interesting than her ability to wind together historical threads, nevertheless, her own stories are the ones that activate the imagination. This book is a departure point. Like getting lost, it opens up possibilities rather than resolving them. I’d recommend reading it while you are traveling alone, and then you can apply the principles inside.

Amateur Book Review

I recently read a wonderful book and decided to write about it. Perhaps Andrew Keen would disapprove of an artist writing a book review, but Claire Pentecost would certainly be on my side.

9781555975234

“Pieces for the Left Hand: 100 Anecdotes”
by J. Robert Lennon

Reviewed by Scott Kildall

I was hastily packing my bags for a red eye flight from San Francisco to New York and was looking for a new book to read. I found this one on my shelf and have no recollection of purchasing it. Indeed, I had never even seen it before.

My own experience mirrors many described in the 100 very short stories written by Lennon. A seemingly insignificant event (usually in a small town) often changes everything afterwards. His stories simultaneously embrace the ironic and sincere as he reflects on the both the durability and hopelessness of human nature.

The tales begin with simple observations or events. Pleasing white smoke emanates from the neighbor’s chimney, but later turns out to be something else. In another story, a professor spurns the local left-handed society and then loses his right arm in a car accident, but not his essential optimism. Another anecdote recalls a bronze sculpture of a mother breastfeeding, which vanishes from the town square and, to the bafflement of the local police, is mysteriously replaced 9 months later with the same woman bottle-feeding.

The collection causes a rethinking of the impact of small events and what we choose to pay attention to in life. Depicting the subjectivity of memory and the shifty nature of imagination, Lennon dips the reader into different places and times. These fragments of fiction unite to form a collective whole that capture an essential contradiction: that we have the capacity to transform yet are trapped by our own selves.