Staff Picks mid-August 2012

On Beauty
by Zadie Smith

Folks, I am PSYCHED about the new Zadie Smith book, NW, out this fall. I have devoured almost everything she's done, in part because she's very good, and in part because her opinions are always so on-point (viz: Changing My Mind). So far, though, On Beauty is my absolute favourite. The story of two dysfunctional families twinned (and counterpointed) in their dysfunctions, their successes, and their prides, On Beauty is filled with perfectly observed moments. The Belseys and the Kippses emerge from Smith's forehead fully formed, all flawed-and-fleshy realism and confused morals. On Beauty is a comedy with surprisingly tender love for its protagonists, but also a Great Realist Novel, something we forget can be as bewitching and absorbing as it is here.

Super Sad True Love Story
by Gary Shteyngart
Super Sad True Love Story is, well, a little bit of all of these descriptors, as you might guess. It was also quite funny. And surprisingly timely. Though the book came out a few years ago, I felt like the currents of social discontent and the critique of conspicuous consumerism were neatly timed for the social unrest we've seen in recent months. Though it's not really framed like a science fiction story -- more of a near-future story -- Super Sad does what good science fiction does: observes contemporary culture and pulls out the most subtle dangers lurking in our bad habits. It is one you will find yourself mulling over, time and again.


by Andrew Blum
A friend recently sent me a link to a fledgling documentary project on the (to me) alarming inequalities between different "classes" of Google employees (who gets to take the Google limos and eat the gourmet Google food, and who has to get to work at 4am without any of those perks...). It got me wondering, as many of us internet-users-who-don't-really-understand-the-internet sporadically do, about the politics surrounding the internet, and about the actual LOCATION of the internet, if there is such a thing? Where does the internet live? Can we go there? If we do, what do we find (and what is kept from us)? Andrew Blum, intrepid writer, actually acted upon these musings. On behalf of lazy internet-ignoramuses like myself, he goes in search of the Internet (he capitalizes it, making it all the more a location, a place with a Proper Name that you can actually visit physically), and chronicles his findings in Tubes, which reads surprisingly well as a travelogue (Blum visits LA, Toronto, Ashburn, Virgina, and Portugal, to name a few), albeit an unusual one. Is the Internet really just a series of tubes? Can the teeth of a hungry squirrel chew through it? What is NANOG? Apparently the Internet has a smell! Don't you want to know what it is?


The Making Of
by Bretch Evens

I was really excited to read this book and let me tell you, it did not disappoint! Evens’ The Making Of is so visually stunning I simply couldn’t put it down, and actually read the whole thing in one sitting. Don't get me wrong though, this book isn't just about vibrant watercolors and remarkable composition -- the character development and plot lines are equally captivating and complex. If you’re unfamiliar with Evens’ work, I urge you to take a peek at his blog, which although written in Flemish, will give you a good idea of how incredibly talented this guy is.


Education and Ruins (Documents of Contemporary Art series)
Edited by Felicity Allen and Brian Dillion respectively

The Documents of Contemporary Art series, co-published by Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press, is one of my favourite book series on art. They are smart, diverse, investigative and utterly compelling. Each book centralizes on a theme, compiling an array of writing related to such theme. The excerpts come from theorists, critics, artists, curators and the like who "represent the diversity of perspectives, generations, and voices defining art today." (MIT Press) Two recent editions, Education and Ruins, are especially fascinating as they approach themes long affiliated with the arts yet happen to hold a particularly pertinent position in our current contemporary art landscape. Artists are rethinking these topics as pedagogy, the right to knowledge, history, and displacement (to name a few) become principal considerations of contemporary society.


Anjin San
by George Akiyama

Published in french by Le L├ęzard Noir (Moomin, Suehiro Maruo), Anjin San is a collection of moral tales in which the descendant of Buddha wanders around the japanese countryside of the seventies. A small, nonchalant and optimistic guy, he discreetly lurks around disenfranchised but goodhearted characters. Throughout these slice-of-life stories, they try to find solutions to their social and sentimental hardships. Along the way, Akiyama provides moral dilemmas and Buddhist concepts for the characters and readers alike to reflect on. This one-shot visually stands out with its streamlined style, meditative sequences and inventive, gekiga-inspired, panelling. Ultimately, melancholia and nostalgia give way to hope, making any reader wish they had an Anjin San of their own right by their side.

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