MAKING A LOCAL APPEARANCE
Seeing birdwatchers gear up at the trailhead-zinc oxide on the nose, floppy hats, quick-draw binocular holsters, water-resistant reference books-I've never quite been able to suss out what might be on their minds. I certainly never imagined it might be the words of Thomas Merton and the imagery of Maori kites.
***image1***But Graeme Gibson has changed all that with The Bedside Book of Birds-An Avian Miscellany (Doubleday, $29.95), a book of remarkable beauty and tenderness. Gibson has collected poems, essays, thoughts and folk tales from sources as diverse as Ovid and TS Eliot, Kafka and Margaret Atwood (handily, the author's wife) alongside riveting color illustrations. In doing so, he creates what most books simply are not anymore; a fantastic treasure to be held with pride and anticipation and opened on secret nights bundled in thick quilts or reverently with family and friends around a fire's embers on a late winter night.
Reading and signing 5 pm Thursday, Nov. 3. Garcia Street Books, 376 Garcia St., 986-0151
To say there's a history of tension between regional Pueblos and Spanish colonizers in these parts would be a touch of understatement, but a new book argues that most of the damage was done before we even got into land grants, revolts and severed feet. Charles C Mann's familiarly yet disarmingly titled 1491, New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Knopf, $30) ***image2***doesn't dwell on New Mexico in particular, but rather focuses on the early civilizations of the Americas as a whole, suggesting that upwards of 100 million people were thriving across the two continents in a range of massive, complex and involved societies.
Those societies, however, were never encountered in force by Europeans; such was the power of European diseases (such as smallpox) brought by the first timid explorers and fishermen, that the population of the Americas was up to 95 percent decimated by the time colonialists arrived in earnest and the people with whom they had halting and confused encounters were the haunted survivors of an unthinkable tragedy. Heady stuff in an area of study swollen with controversy and argument, but just the ticket for early American history buffs and avid readers of Jared Diamond.
Reading and signing 5 pm Saturday, Nov. 12. Garcia Street Books, 376 Garcia St., 986-0151
Legendary creator of the Animas Foundation and preserver of the New Mexico bootheel's secret treasure, the Gray Ranch, Drum Hadley has big stature among both ranchers and environmentalists. But don't forget, this cowboy's a poet in the Black Mountain legacy and a peer of Robert Creeley, Allan Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Gary Snyder. Hadley's new book, Voice of the Borderlands (Rio Nuevo, $29.95) is a thick volume of poetry that goes down like alternating gulps of whiskey and water and brings to life one of the more dynamic areas-and concepts-in American life: the border.
Here's the kicker: Hadley was recently in a car accident resulting in damage to the part of the brain that allows him to decipher letters and words-he'll be "reading" from his new book, just as you'd expect of a guy like him, by heart.
Reading and signing 7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 8. Collected Works, 208-B W. San Francisco St., 988-4226
STRICTLY ON THE NATIONAL SCENE
OK. Let me be honest here. Among architects or, really, for our purposes here, starchitectects, I've always felt that Michael Graves is a tool. Just a complete ass. His design sense is sycophantic and his unbelievably large line of miscellany made for Target Stores is nothing short of appalling. Yet, here I am, going on record right now as ***image4***loving Images of a Grand Tour (Princeton Architectural Press, $29.95), Graves' collection of drawings and snapshots in Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Britain and Spain, from Hadrian's Villa to Gaudi's Sagrada Familia.
This isn't the Graves that you'll find in the aisles under fluorescent lighting, but the Graves who won the Prix de Rome in 1960 and embarked, from a modest studio at the American Academy in Italy's capital, on a "grand tour." His succinct photographs and easy, gestural consuming of the forms and places before him capture something beyond object and architecture and bleed, with vicarious pleasure, the simple joy of basking in fresh experience and sensory satiation.
"No matter what part of the world you come from, if you travel widely, you are going to encounter food that is unusual, strange, maybe even immoral..." writes Richard Sterling in How to Eat Around the World (Traveler's Tales Books, $12.95). The contents live up to that statement as the book delves into how to sink your teeth into deep-fried locust, reminding readers that, in Australia, you're bragging about your tackle if you say "I'm stuffed" and never to leave your chopsticks in your food in stick and bowl territory-that's for funerals, bub. A flick of the finger against the neck in Poland isn't a death threat, it's an invitation to share a drink and, in the same sense that in Japan, a samurai sword is only drawn to be used, and only used to kill, in Russia, a bottle of vodka is only opened to be imbibed and only imbibed until it's gone.
In a physically small book with only a couple hundred pages, Sterling does an impressive job of cataloguing major (and many minor) possible culinary experiences throughout the world with a pleasant, triple-layered technique of solid research, quirky historical interludes and spicy prose.
Frank Kelly Rich's The Modern Drunkard-A Handbook for Drinking in the 21st Century (Riverhead Books, $14), is a reckless and wonderful book. Let's get right to the business of it: Page 147 begins the hints on how to remain moderately wrecked at work, including using a sports bottle to feign a sort of healthy, jovial jock persona while squirting liquor to the back of your throat, masking your pathetic alchie breath and that old high-school bus trip favorite, injecting large citrus fruit with syringe-fulls of vodka.
It's not all about sticking your co-workers with the psychic bill for your addiction, though, Drunkard uses a sort of mock Ward Cleaver authority to detail humorous but spot-on aspects of indulging in the nanny state's only legal drug, including sections on the Art of the Mingle, the Zen of Drinking Alone and 40 Things Every Drunkard Should Do, such as "get drunk on the grave of your hero" and "open and close a bar." The book also includes rules and bits of wisdom: "If you can't afford to tip, you can't afford to drink in a bar" and "Learn to appreciate hangovers. If it was all good times every jackass would be doing it." Finally, good news for New Mexicans-the sole form of transport advocated for finding your way home from the bar? A brisk walk.
When his wife wants a bigger apartment and a few amenities, unmotivated and geeky writer Joshua Davis visits a job counselor but is unimpressed by the expert's frayed jacket, windowless office and dry erase board with the ***image3***word "energize" scrawled across it. Rather than taking an uninspiring data entry job, Davis risks his marriage and his manhood on a series of absurd sporting challenges; bullfighting, sumo wrestling, arm wrestling and more.
The result is, predictably, a book. The Underdog: How I Survived the World's Most Outlandish Competitions (Villard, $21.95) champions nerdy observation of the world so heavily it merits comparison with overdone tales of undercover police work. Which is to say, in the same manner that danger is inevitably exaggerated in order to sell "true-story" crime thrillers, Davis' book plays the juxtaposition of weedy loser against champion Sumo wrestler for all it's worth and quite a bit that it ain't worth. The book is a thin collection of adventures after such a lofty title, but is plenty thick for its one-liner premise. Still, the author has an eye for the absurd and enough Woody Allen charm to keep a reader chuckling lightly through to the end.
Ken Goffman, better known to the world as RU Sirius, and Dan Joy have shaken equal parts Howard Zinn and Timothy Leary in with smatterings of Goethe, Buddha, Martin Luther King and Wired Magazine and come up with Counter Culture through the Ages, from Abraham to Acid House (Villard, $15.95). Covering pretty much all of history-and those who've bristled under the thumb of The Man throughout it-relegates the book to the realm of quick survey-style reading, hopping from a primer on what counter culture is and the story of the Tribe of Abraham and the greek god Prometheus all the way to hip-hop, culture-hacking and cloning in 366 pages.
The unique lens of Counter Culture, however, provides a surprisingly fluid history of life on earth (at least the juicy bits) and a useful quick reference compendium: Where else can you have speedy, single volume access to the basics on Sufi practice, James Joyce, lesbian separatism and Abbie Hoffman?