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J.P.'s Picks

 

I've worked here for long enough to know better. I moved to Portland after leaving Bennington College and living like a rat in Brooklyn; now I get eight months of overcast and rain, which leaves lots of time for reading and eating. I finally moved into a house where I can live in my closet; my room is completely empty. Its like a womb where I can read and play guitar – but cold. I can only thank Stanley Zappa for my working at Powellís Books: after all the fantastic stories I heard, the great people he met, and the stupendous work environment, how could I resist? That, plus I was tired of getting up at 4 AM to go to the bakery.

 

Photography

Eikoh Hosoe Eikoh Hosoe by Eikoh Hosoe
As a student of photography, the only photographers that I had any time for were the ones that told stories or made dynamic, novelistic gestures in their work. I can't say Hosoe ever influenced me in my own work, but he has influenced my ensuing aesthetic. He is considered by some the premier Japanese photographer of the day. From his photos and collaborations with Yukio Mishima to his extensive work with Butoh dancers, he has made a unique mark in the photo world by combining exquisite technique with deep commentary.

This book is one of the few books in print about him. What a shame. The prints are clear and you get to see a good cross-section of his work. Though seeing one or two photos from each original series makes it difficult to perceive the flow of the story, even the tantalizing glimpses offered here are very effective. Plus, one of the most narrative of his works is presented in a series of smaller prints that show the whole story. He is truly a great storyteller. Given that finding copies of the original publications of most of these photos is rather difficult, I guess we should all be satisfied with the little windows into the world of a very great man. I consider him to be an absolutely necessary part of any photo library, and essential to any thorough understanding of contemporary photography.

Masterworks from 40 Years by Paul Caponigro
Like Ansel Adams, Caponigro is a master of the large format camera. (Thus the name, "Masterworks.") Sometimes when I look at his work I feel like I'm watching someone play with clay. The way he manipulates light, he's truly capable of placing the lights and darks of his prints wherever he wants them. I get an insight into what each picture is not. Like staring at a brick for half an hour, his photographs open up the viewer's sight. (I'm reminded of the cartoons where the magic-books spray light out when opened.) He doesn't just capture light; he projects it. He photographs a tree, a leaf, an apple, a shell, a doll – and yet manages to make the pictures about the Onelove. I'd give my knuckles and pinky toe to do that.

Los Angeles Spring by Robert Adams
What do you say about someone who photographs nothing? Dirt, a dead tree, a leftover construction site. . . . Not pretty, not really arty, not anything. Still, Adams is one of my favorite "artists." He shoots the spaces on the road and in your life that you ignore: that van you can't afford to fix or use but won't sell, the cracked second step on your stoop. I guess I interpret these photos as some kind of Zen statement, and to some extent thatís enough to enjoy them. But I also see a more conscious comment on how humanity deals with nature and what we, as humans, leave behind for nature to deal with. Thereís always the element of the human in his photos, remnants of mistakes or abandonment – somewhat like Richard Misrach, but without the heavy morality. An undeniable cynicism lurks in the photos, but, at the same time, the inevitability of growth and reclamation by Nature offers hope. Our conquest of nature is incomplete, and Robert Adams seems to prefer it that way.

Les Miserables: Homeless People in Ukraine by Boris Mikhailov
Mikhailov puts my petty yearnings and "needs" into sharp relief. Paging through his book, I find it hard not to give thanks for the glory day/apple pie/baseball life we lead here – or, rather, some of us lead here. Street children huffing drugs, homeless adults with basketball-sized growths in their stomachs, families living in cardboard . . . they all live and speak on the pages of this book. But what really makes Case History a winner is the compassion and reality of it. Like snapshots of friends – apparently, they are friends – I feel like Iím looking through Mikhailovs family book of portraits. The only shock is our own projection of what we expect a "good" life to look like. Not to say that the people inhabiting the pages are pinnacles of happiness, and there is definitely an element of social commentary, but the overriding concern here seems merely to document life: up, down, and side-to-side. Being able to witness that life through Mikhailovís photographs is a blessing. Case History leaves me with a similar feeling as Jacob Holdtís American Pictures. There are a lot of parallels between this "foreign" culture and our own if Holdtís book is anything to go by.

 

Music, Literature, Film, and Art

Beneath the UnderdogBeneath The Underdog by Charles Mingus
Who but the greatest bassist of all time could write the greatest music autobiography ever? When I think of Mingus, the "Praying with Eric" í64 phase is what I hear, and this book might be considered much like that phase. His freewheeling style and amazing life (or his version of it) make for reading that is more like a real-life Fear and Loathing meets Schoenberg than a stuffy compendium of albums recorded and sessions played. With anecdotes about the original "New Jazz" pioneers (Charlie Parker, Dizzy, etc.) alongside crazed tales of prostitution rings and trips to Mexico, thereís a lot of ground covered here. Iím waiting for the movie to come out, maybe directed by Peckinpah....well maybe Harmony Korine....

A Fan's NotesA Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley
If Bukowski wrote less like Hemingway and more like Nabakov you might get Exley. Or you might get a headache. What Exley did for me was really spell out some of the reasons for being an alcoholic/drug user. He manages to pinpoint his own reasons for misery without making that the point of the book. He tells a great story about what itís like to be a watcher, a fan, and how we come to be at peace with the symptoms of "Nevergonnamakeitbig." As part of the MTV generation and a target of the force-fed dreams of stardom funneled down my throat, I can really relate to the emotions that football, basketball, and other sports aroused in the baby boomer generation – not to say that sports-feeding ever stopped. After reading his biography, Misfit: The Strange Life Of Frederick Exley (by Jonathan Yardley), I came to the conclusion that Exley tried his best to write about what he knew and added some "fiction" to make his own life more interesting. A Fanís Notes speaks to the overwhelming desire to "be somebody" and the endless excuses as to why you "canít right now."

Kinski Uncut: The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski by Klaus Kinski
Cobra Verde isn't mentioned in this book, though itís one of my all-time favorite movies. It was also one of Kinskiís last. Much like that film, this book meanders here and there while dealing with some rather disturbing and blownoutofproportion situations with grace and beauty. Not even vaguely PC, he focuses predominantly on his affairs, his feuds, and his children (pausing every few pages to tell us how they changed his life and are the only magic left – quack quack) while rarely discussing the movies he's made, which he generally treats only as a source of income or irritation. He is not lacking in ego, and Iíd certainly hesitate to call him a role model, but he performed anywhere and anyway (if the money was right). That attitude created one of the greatest actors the world has ever seen. If you can't agree with that, at least I can feel confident that he would. If you think this book isn't your bag, then at the very least go out and rent Cobra Verde.

Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky by Alexandra Munroe
The Japanese and their art! I love any book that has photos of Min Tanaka doing his thing – or any Butoh for that matter. Back in my "formal" education period, I had the privilege of seeing a Min Tanaka/Milford Graves performance ("Butoh Dance" and Drums/Percussion). I left feeling as if Iíd been allowed into a private ritual. It really changed the way I conceive of performance and music. It also opened up the world of Japanese contemporary art for me.

My understanding? After a couple of nuclear devices are set off in your backyard, then several decades of pernicious western social, medical, economic, and military influence, how does one get back to work on the several-thousand year old roots of oneís culture? Some of the answers are in this book. Munroe provides a history and breakdown of most of the major trends and artists of the postwar period. A lot of beautiful pictures. And a fair amount of background, history, and explanation of the sources and influences of the artists make for a thorough overview (whatever that means).

 

Health, Mind, and Body

Healing with Whole FoodsHealing With Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
Natural food and healing are the hipnewjiggytight thing. From TBN (The Bible Network) to CNN, "you are what you eat" is becoming more and more accepted as the Truth by the mainstream media. Healing With Whole Foods is the definitive resource that bridges Eastern holistic theory and the Western analytical view of medicine, food, healing, and, ultimately, life. Pitchford presents chapters on theory (Ayurvedic, Macrobiotic and Western Medical), diseases (cures/treatment for everything from AIDS to warts), nutrition (vitamins, minerals, oils, etc.), plus, my favorite descriptions of the energetics and properties of specific foods – and recipes for them, too! You could live your whole life out of this thing!! I've used it as a healing and nutrition index for five years now. It just keeps providing more and more to think about and more and more frameworks within which I can analyze my own well-being. I canít say enough about it. Good good good!!!

Yoga Mind and Body by Swami Sivananda
Unfortunately, though he is one of the originals who translated this information (about yoga and Vedanta) into English, most of Swami Sivanandaís books are out of print. (He has written over 300 books in English and many more in Hindi.) I started doing yoga about three years ago, and I've only done it out of a book, The Sivananda Companion to Yoga, but even lesson-less I've managed to stand on my head and pretzel myself up into various shapes – like physical origami. I feel like I am not quite at the "lights on!" point, but the philosophical aspects of Sivanandaís teachings are very exciting. He manages to put the "mysterious" into very practical terms and makes the whole process seem very doable. I like this particular instructional manual because it covers all the bases: the poses, sets, settings, meditation, and even some excellent recipes! With beautiful pictures and easy-to-follow instructions (and warnings), the first steps into the shining light can be taken by anyone.

Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits by Friedrich Nietzsche
As Iím neither a fluent German speaker nor a scholar, I couldn't begin to say which is the truest translation of this seminal work. I am, however, working on being a free spirit, and, given that my ex-girlfriend claims that I get all my ideas out of books, I guess this is doubly the book for me. It contains a lot of aphorisms and couple-page-long discussions on virtually every topic, and I mean every topic; every single thing you could possibly think of, it seems, Nietzsche has an opinion about. Snacking on one or two of these aphorisms each day gives me something to think about and manages to help me reexamine my own opinions. Like this one: "When virtue has rested, it will arise refreshed." Iím still thinking about that one. He always puts things in the most understandable way, leaving the ends open so you are never quite sure what to think. In trying to interpret his thoughts in as many ways as possible, you come to an understanding that encompasses the whole idea, all sides of it, rather than closing yourself to the limitations of one perspective or the other. After reading this book we will all arise refreshed.

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