Monthly Archives: September 2008

forthcoming…or frothcoming?

Egads!  It appears as if the author guy will be offering his latest..offering, and in no time quick!  Tell your friends.


In his book Do Travel Writers go to Hell?, intrepid traveler Thomas Kohnstamm does a fascinating job of weighing his own addiction of travel with the highly unreasonable expectations that are associated with being a guidebook travel writer. Also, Kohnstamm admirably demolishes the popular conception that travel writing is some sort of dream job; his consistently neurotic analysis of the futile planning, budgeting and writing for Lonely Planet, or any guidebook publisher for that matter is not only sobering, but warranted for those blinded by their travel-induced naivete.

Kohnstamm begins by disclaiming his addiction to travel and the atypical circumstances in which he decides to pursue it as a career. He subsequently embarks on his adventure to cover northeastern Brasil’s most likely and unlikely tourist destinations (on behalf of Lonely Planet) and the people he meets along the way. It is here that one arrives at a recurring theme throughout the book: it is not necessarily the places one visits but the people met that makes the story worthwhile.

Insufficient stipends and unreasonable deadlines are just two of the variables obstructing Kohnstamm’s progress. Throw in a constant stream of Brasilian cachaca, drugs, late nights/early mornings, the gamut of intestinal illnesses, opportunistic thugs as well as the usual bribery schemes (among all the players), and it is no wonder that the journey itself is truly the thing.

The book, however, is not simply a retelling of Kohnstamm’s escapades. It does raise a lot of questions even for the novice traveler. He ponders the implications of cultural relativism, the apparent lawlessness and corruption, as well as the increasing commercialization and urbanization of Brasil at the expense of its history and identity. Not to mention the fringe benefits of writing positive reviews, especially if those reviews are generated by the favors exhibited on behalf the restaurant or hotel one is writing about.

If there was one thing I regretted about the book, apart from my envy, it is Kohnstamm’s overindulgence at the expense of his craft. Granted, his wild nights performing “research” forces harried and slightly unethical writing; however, the descriptions of his supporting characters would subsequently suffer. Therein lies the dilemma: is this a travel writing book or a book about travel writing? The lines aren’t always clear.

Kohnstamm does well to capture the sweltering zeitgeist of Northeastern Brasil and the plight of the travel writer, thereby leaving the reader with a nuanced yet realistic depiction of the industry, and tells a captivating story while doing so. His advice: if you really love to travel, think twice about making it your occupation.

new music

Initially I wasn’t sure about adding reviews about music as I intended the blog to serve as a marker for what I’ve been reading, but really, why not? Us library geeks write about gaming, movies, comics, manga, etc. so why shouldn’t new and creative music be included, even if we’re not music librarians?

For those unaware of Giant Sand and Howe Gelb, the Tucson-based band and its leader never look beyond the scope of their current experiment. An experiment which usually necessitates a southwestern desert haze and interstellar outlook. In his subtle singing droll of a voice, Gelb strolls along the border between wry resignation and light hearted whimsy, his band never veering from the laid-back rock and and roll it so effortlessly oozes.

Gelb is a musician who takes his time and never sticks to a formula. Other than combining a smoke-filled, saloon-sounding piano with the twang and buzz of southwestern guitar. Not to mention a little backup from friends like Neko Case, M. Ward and Marie Frank, with the resulting sound like a musical equivalent of a deep, dark drive down the highway at twilight. Standout tracks from the new release called proVISIONS include ‘Increment of love’, ‘Stranded Pearl’, ‘Belly full of fire’ and ‘Well enough alone’.

I’ll admit I have a stake in this review, as Giant Sand is one of my favorite bands. That being said, this new album by Howe Gelb and company is, for me, the most consistent release from the Sandmen in quite some time. I daresay that I think it’s slightly more cohesive than their masterpiece Chore of Enchantment. Which means that it is astonishingly brilliant.

take a listen to some samples from proVISIONS.


Surprised, thought I’d score higher.  Oh well, all things in moderation.

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Chuck Palahniuk is a really talented writer whom I fear will have his works misinterpreted. For on the one hand, he has quite a knack for delivering a superficial, though by no means trivial, raging masculinity among his characters. The feeling of empowerment he creates within such characters is tangible, though on the other hand his ability to subtly mock them, and create an air of absurdity around their every action is also very nuanced. Thereby his works appeal both to the crowd looking for a quick fix of titillation and/or depravity as well as those attempting to derive meaning and not merely enjoyment from such instances.

I’m feeling particularly smug for using the word ‘titillation’ in reference to his latest book, Snuff. For on the one hand it really is an exploration into how many clever titles one can think of for pornographizing Hollywood movie titles and depicting the described “instances of sex” within an atypical adult movie production. Conversely, Palahniuk masterfully speculates upon the traces, steps, and circumstances of one’s decisions to appear in such a production, as well as the terminology and variety of colorful archetypes one may find quite literally hanging around the production set.

This particular story is about the interaction of a group of characters temporarily sequestered from the adult film star attempting to smash the record for “instances of sex” in one, her final, farewell movie appearance. Waiting for their respective turn, Palahniuk weaves these characters’ background into a humorous and intriguing dialogue of opportunism, degeneracy, chivalry, and desperation. We are introduced to four characters, Mr. 72, Mr. 137, Mr. 600, and Sheila, the “talent wrangler” and assistant to the star, coordinating the project. Without going into too much detail, we catch a glimpse of differing motivation and lifestyle among the characters: young and innocent, resigned and marginalized, and the proudly, cruelly, and ignorantly self-centered.

Suffice it to say, what happens next is pure Palahniuk. If there’s anything consistent about his style, it’s that he most likely despises any sort of formulaic, contrived structure to the story. Though he may have a slight fixation of the role of the mother in some of his works, he doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to providing comfy closure for his players or readers.

In any case, not only does Palahniuk vividly illustrate the rawness of the adult industry in this book, he conveys the collective discomfort of Hollywood as a whole, one desperate character at a time. In the process demonstrating an existential absurdity that’s both entertaining and meaningful.


Despite a mere 200 pages you too can experience what seems like an epic, multi-volume heap of guilt vomited upon the vulgar vanity with which us humans tuck ourselves in each night. We describe ourselves as civilized, perhaps even progressive, yet in her book The Stone Gods, Jeanette Winterson skillfully reiterates what what we humans are so good at, and obliterates such vanity like a bear would to a sausage pinata.

The problem with us, Winterson reminds, is that for all our abilities, we just can’t seem to learn anything from history. This recurring idea is the theme of 3 and 1/2 short stories, vignettes maybe, all intertwined within The Stone Gods. The first story, centering around the newly discovered Planet Blue, deals with a very advanced “civilization” coming to terms with its interplanetary recolonization, or at least it’s inevitable effect upon colonization. The second story, a historical speculative taking place on Easter Island, illustrates the more aged impulses involved in worshiping your chosen god while sacrificing your home in the process. The third + 1/2 story deals with our near-future hubris after the inevitable Post-3 War, or a not-so-subtle hint at World War III.

This novel is a brilliantly conceived yet complex mix of science fiction and dramatic literature. It’s up to the reader to discern what worlds, time periods, even places Winterson is alluding to, and she does fantastic job of speculating human behavior, if it is indeed human, within each. She grapples with relevant concepts of today such as war, artificial intelligence, global warming, cosmetic enhancement, all the stuff we humans turn toward when we we turn away from ourselves. Our nuance is that we accept how flawed as a species we are, yet we still are too lazy to do anything about it.

Because of this, Winterson unleashes three apocalyptic scenarios upon the reader, both with beauty and inanity. It’s a profound exposition on what it means to be human; dare I say it’s vividly gonzo. Although it’s an excellent book, for me it tended to degrade a bit at the third + story, amounting to more an effort of stream-of-consciousness than a coherent storyline. Here she also gets a little too complex in referring to the book within the story itself.

In any case, this is an imaginative and important work, good for both China Mieville and Cormac McCarthy fans.