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Elizabeth Lenaghan has commented on (5) products.

Residual Media by Charles R. Acland
Residual Media

Elizabeth Lenaghan, December 1, 2009

This book is both great and great looking. Its retro looking cover (complete with black and white typewriter) points to its effort to look closely at Raymond Williams category of "residual media." Though the contributions are not uniformly devoted to examining the theoretical use of this category, they are all interesting and contain inquiries into topics as varied as vinyl (LP) collecting and trinkets from museum gift shops. I would recommend it to any academic reader, particularly one with an interest in media studies.
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50 Things to Do with a Book: (Now That Reading Is Dead) by Bruce Mccall
50 Things to Do with a Book: (Now That Reading Is Dead)

Elizabeth Lenaghan, November 24, 2009

This tongue-in-cheek book was amusing without being at all provocative. McCall, as he states in his prologue, begins with the premise that books are dead (he recognizes the irony he is printing this belief within a book). He goes on to provide 50 illustrated recommendations for how books might be used (for something other than reading). The recommendations range from the ridiculous (stilts) to the impossible (use books about Egypt to build a full-sized replica of a pyramid). For the most part, McCall relates the content of books (which would presumably be of little importance to the people who were looking to dispose of them) to their act of destruction (one of my personal favorite recommendations, also depicted on the book's cover, is that copies of To Kill a Mockingbird be pitched at actual mockingbirds to, presumably, kill them). Of course, in so explicitly relating the "dead" books' contents to their destruction, McCall manages to prevent the books from being treated as merely objects. And, more tellingly, he presumably has to read these books at least enough to relate their newfound purposes to their previously valued content. But none of this is to imply his book fails at doing what he sets out to accomplish. He's written a comical picture book, with annotations. It took me a half-hour to read. You may as well do the same if you see it on a shelf of your local book shop, if only to prove that reading isn't dead after all.
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Institutions of Reading: The Social Life of Libraries in the United States (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book) by Thomas Augst
Institutions of Reading: The Social Life of Libraries in the United States (Studies in Print Culture and the History of the Book)

Elizabeth Lenaghan, November 24, 2009

The quality of this edited collection was uniformly good, though the vast majority of the contributions were more historically interesting than theoretically provoking. Nonetheless, the book covers topics as chronologically diverse as social libraries in 18th century New England to contemporary concerns of digital archivists. Along the way, the various authors expose their own affinities for libraries (they aren't all librarians, but I would venture they are all accomplished users of their resources) by engaging with a vast array of relevant archives. Personally speaking, I'm still attempting to tease out the relationship that libraries (as institutions) play in the practices of individual book collectors, but these essays helped me to formulate the question underlying this relationship in different ways, prompting me to think about how the ways information is cataloged or chosen for a library controls the type of work likely to be conducted within it. The tensions (still felt) between the role of the library as a democratic space which might reflect the desires of its patrons versus a formative space that might influence the public tastes persist even as collections become increasingly virtual. Regardless of the fate of the codex book in our digital age, libraries will remain vital in the cultivation and preservation of scholarship. This collection nicely demonstrates both how and why libraries have always occupied roles of such importance, while simultaneously promoting the necessity for their continued prominence in the future.
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American Wife (New York Times Notable Books) by Curtis Sittenfeld
American Wife (New York Times Notable Books)

Elizabeth Lenaghan, November 23, 2009

When I was first told of the conceit of this book, I had no desire to read it. However, after seeing a few positive reviews and being compelled by Elizabeth Banks' performance of Laura Bush in Oliver Stone's W., I changed my mind (it should also be noted that I've read all of Sittenfeld's novels, which says something about how compulsively readable her books are, though I wouldn't have rated any of them higher than this). As far as the plot goes, I think this is the most sophisticated and intricate of Sittenfeld's efforts. Alice Blackwell is a fully realized character, in the best sense of the term. In fact, she becomes so real that you are either compelled to forgive Laura Bush for any/all complicity she had in the disaster of her husband's administration, or just forget the Bush White House was the inspiration for this novel altogether. (I actually found the latter more palatable in many parts of the novel, particularly those that allude to the President's sex life, but even those that revisit his social and war policies). Either way, the story provides enough "behind the scenes" gossip to fill its 500+ pages, and I found it a perfect companion for my solo-research trip (where it distracted me from a slight fear for flying and from wasting my evenings on television while I lounged in my hotel room alone). All of this said, there's something so easily forgettable about all of Sittenfeld's books, and this one (despite the loftiness of its subject matter) is no exception. I can't help but think a writer so talented she can make readers have empathy for a terrible man's wife should also be able to conjure up something I might recall hours after having read it. I will likely continue to indulge in Sittenfeld's books, but I hope they get less fluffy because I think she's capable of more.
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Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford
Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany

Elizabeth Lenaghan, November 9, 2009

Heat combines incredible writing with hunger-inspiring topics. Buford is both an honest critic of his own attempts to learn to cook, as well as an incredibly astute observer of the strengths and weaknesses of the astounding culinary talent that surrounds him. This is a must-read for anyone who loves books about food, but would be enjoyed by anyone who admires great prose.
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