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Original Essays | September 4, 2014

Edward E. Baptist: IMG The Two Bodies of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism



My new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, is the story of two bodies. The first body was the new... Continue »
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Dot by Patricia Intriago
Dot

September Song, September 13, 2011

Although begging comparison to Ruth Krauss's 1967 classic 'This Thumbprint', graphic designer Patricia Intriago's 'Dot' brings a more current aesthetic to the table.

Krauss's thumbprints were folksy, some only partial, a little smudged, and often whimsically humanized with stick arms, clothing and hand-drawn faces. Intriago's dots are hard-edged, modern and without the addition of a single off-center grin they are packed with personality.

Paired in opposing relationships the dots can be large or small, positive or negative, even on dogs and not on zebras. One is stuffed too full to maintain its naturally round shape and must be squared off to fit the page. One sits heavily on the floor while others float above it, one peeks out from behind an invisible box.

Most appropriately for a book that can be used as a short bedtime read for the very young it actually follows the course of a day, from the bright yellow dot on the sky blue background that opens the book, to the moon and star dots that bring it to a close in the last pages and on the endpapers.

Patricia Intriago has done a very clever, totally up-to-date version of a classic theme. Ruth Krauss would be proud.
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Cannery Row (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century) by John Steinbeck
Cannery Row (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century)

September Song, September 4, 2011

Although John Steinbeck wrote many great works of American literature Cannery Row is my favorite by far.
This short tale of the inhabitants of a stretch of industrial property on the coast of California is a rich little comic gem that Steinbeck lifts briefly into the Summer sun so that we might glimpse a society different from, but not entirely unlike, our own.

Though it's not socially revolutionary like The Grapes of Wrath, nor the genesis of a Hollywood blockbuster like East of Eden, it is told with such precision and with such affection and respect for its ragtag cast of characters that the reader feels privileged to have met them.
Mack and the boys are not bums and drunkards but "gentlemen and philosophers united by a common dislike of a steady job and a mutual feeling for the pleasures of living according to their lights" and Doc, the main character, is "half-Christ and and half-satyr" as he collects his marine and terrestrial fauna for sale to scientific laboratories while unofficially ministering to the sick puppies, lost children and unhappy souls on the Row.

You must be somewhat slipshod in your own morals to like this book, it's not for the ramrod stiff among us. As Lewis Gannet wrote: "It does not rank cleanliness next to godliness, and its everyday vocabulary takes four-letter words in its Elizabethan stride". And there are whores, but you must be able to see them as sisters and daughters with dreams of their own, and better places to be in time.

And so I invite you, after the busy canneries shut their doors in the late afternoon. Come out with the boys to sit on the rusty pipes in the vacant lot, watch as the girl's emerge from Dora's "for a bit of sun if there is any", cross the street to Lee Chong's for a couple of quarts of beer and take them over to Western Biological to see if Doc is in.
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On the Road by Jack Kerouac
On the Road

September Song, September 3, 2011

A few years ago, 50 years after its initial publication, and 35 years since I had read it for the first time myself, I loaned my battered paperback copy of On The Road to a young friend of mine who had asked me "What should I read next?". Her reaction was, as I would have hoped, overwhelmingly positive. "It made me want to go hitchhiking" she told me.
She didn't go, of course, that's considered too dangerous these days, but she caught the spirit of Kerouac from those yellowed old pages and that made me happy.
It made me remember myself from the days before I was twenty. When the world was wide-open in front of me with all my limitless imagination and inexhaustible energy to carry me forward.
Those two-and-a-half-hundred pages created in a Benzedrine-fueled typing frenzy spoke to both of us across generations as great writing is meant to do.
Jack's tales of Casady, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and the rest would continue in his books that followed but the spirit and zest of On The Road stand alone.
Bob Dylan said of it, "It changed my life like it changed everyone else's".
Myself and my young friend were lucky enough to experience it that same way.
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(1 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)



Just Kids by Patti Smith
Just Kids

September Song, September 1, 2011

Sometimes it's about being in the right place at the right time and Patti Smith certainly was.
Now, all these years later, we get to hear the stories too, and great ones they are.
'Just Kids' is chock-full of wonderful anecdotes about the greats and the unknowns who shaped the New York music and art scene in the 60s, and 70's and who's influences on outsider culture in those days reverberate today in the mainstream.
Unflinchingly honest, and recalled with crystal clarity, Smith's remarkable memoir of this pivotal period in American art is a well-deserved award winner.
Once again, as we move further into the 21st Century, our minds and hearts are stirred by Patti Smith.
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