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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Read Local: An Air Guitar User's Guide and Desmond Tutu Crowdsources Humanity

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2012 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Alexandria, Egypt. The opening of the Bibliotheca Alexandria in 2002 has re-established the city as a center for scholarship. Julius Ceasar accidentally burned down the Royal Library of Alexandria in 48CE.  - JALA YOUSRY
  • Jala Yousry
  • Alexandria, Egypt. The opening of the Bibliotheca Alexandria in 2002 has re-established the city as a center for scholarship. Julius Ceasar accidentally burned down the Royal Library of Alexandria in 48CE. 

New York City might be home to the big houses, but this scrappy city just happens to be the epicenter of publishing on the Best Coast. Join Alexis Coe every Wednesday for Read Local, a series on books produced in the Bay Area.

You may not know Insight Editions by name, but you know the type of books they publish. You've seen them in the doctor's office and on coffee tables. They're waiting for you under the Christmas tree. Perhaps a half-read volume is in your bathroom at this very moment.

Of course, that's not how Insight would describe themselves. They are dedicated to "creating superlative illustrated books" that "promote rich subject matter," assertions I put to the test when they invited me to select titles from their 2012 list for review, which includes imprints Earth Aware and Mandala publishing. I choose three titles which seemed to speak to the depth and breadth of the list, but I was unprepared for how wildly different in quality they proved to be.

See also:

McSweeney's Makes Books Magical Again

When it Comes to Cooking, Judge a Book by Its Cover

click to enlarge air_guitar.jpg

The first book out of the box from San Rafael was Air Guitar: A User's Guide by Bruno McDonald, which I will abstain from reviewing for everyone's sake, lest this become some kind of low-rent Pete Wells-Guy Fieri situation. It exists. Do what you will with that information.

Accidental Inventions by Brigit Krols, however, is successful in many respects. Krols is a journalist and magazine editor, and it shows in the layout and well-chosen photographs that capture the essence of an invention, whether in the moment or in the lasting effects on humanity. 60 inventions of varying import are included, from silly putty to dynamite, often with an anecdote.

click to enlarge accidental_inventions.jpg


The genesis of any given invention is granted no more than 12 sentences, which does not allow for much specificity. The lack of citations or bibliography proves slightly irritating when a statement is made that is unclear or dubious. At the same time, the book makes no big claims or poses as an authority, but rather as a compendium of serendipitous moments. Reissued this month, Accidental Inventions would be a welcomed gift for a curious child.

click to enlarge Dniprodzerzhynsk, Ukraine. The government estimates there are 15,000 people living on the streets, but charities think the total is closer to 600,000. Winters are severe. 130 people froze to death in 10 days.
  • Dniprodzerzhynsk, Ukraine. The government estimates there are 15,000 people living on the streets, but charities think the total is closer to 600,000. Winters are severe. 130 people froze to death in 10 days.

click to enlarge Ramallah, Occupied West Bank. Palestinians on Nakba Day (Catastrophe Day). - HEIDI LEVINE
  • Heidi Levine
  • Ramallah, Occupied West Bank. Palestinians on Nakba Day (Catastrophe Day).

"But depictions of everyday life are a type of narrative seldom afforded place in the media and in our frantic information flow," Tutu writes. "Yet it is precisely each other's daily lives that can teach us so much, through seeing how others live and work."

click to enlarge Dhaka, Bangladesh. Factory workers cannot afford housing.  - SAURABH DAS
  • Saurabh Das
  • Dhaka, Bangladesh. Factory workers cannot afford housing. 

63,294 people in 190 countries took photographs of everyday life on May 15, 2012. Almost 100,000 images were uploaded, 20 percent taken with mobile phones. Out of those images, photographs by amateurs and professionals alike, from Jakarta to Bucharest, were selected by editor Jeppe Wikstrom to be included in the visual record of humankind, and our world is better for it.

click to enlarge Vallingby, Sweden. It takes 40 people four hours to raise the circus tent.  - NIKLAS LARSSON
  • Niklas Larsson
  • Vallingby, Sweden. It takes 40 people four hours to raise the circus tent. 

Each picture is both familiar and foreign, with just enough text to situate readers in a time and place, and provide context. "Kolkata, India, 09:15. Train commuters squeezed together. More than 14 million people live in the city's metropolitan area."A man leans his head against the metal siding, eyes closed, face unshaven, exhausted. Next to him, a bespectacled man looks pensive, staring intensely at the scene beyond the window, veins bulging on the side of his forehead. He is late. There are problems at home. His job is in peril. Someone is sick. I have seen this look on MUNI and BART. A similar scene is captured just above it. "Tokyo, Japan, 22:00. With other passengers occupying the priority seats, a young mother must stand." I have offered my seat to her American equivalent, worried I had been too engrossed in whatever book or magazine I was reading to notice sooner.

click to enlarge San Juan Texhuacan, Veracruz, Mexico. Clemencia rises early to make memelas, toasted cakes made out of corn dough and salt.  - DENISE AULIE
  • Denise Aulie
  • San Juan Texhuacan, Veracruz, Mexico. Clemencia rises early to make memelas, toasted cakes made out of corn dough and salt. 

Copies of the images are being "preserved for future research as time capsules" at cultural institutions around the world, including the National Archives of Sweden. I urge you to purchase one for your own bookshelf or another's. It belongs on nearly everyone's.

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