Duck Duck Book

30 – addendum to number 23
02.16.2006, 12:03 pm
Filed under: technology

The Index to How To Do It Information (reviewed in Duck Duck Book number 23) is now available online.  The Index is presented in its entirety, so all citations from magazines published 1963-1999 should be available.

The interface for the Index is a little bit opaque, but as the information presented is fairly simple in form it isn’t hard to learn how to use it.  Follow the link to search, and you’ll see an alphabetical list of subjects.  If you choose T and then click on turnip, you’ll see something like:


Each of these items is a link (despite the fact that they’re presented in plain black text).  “TURNIP” links to all the articles on the subject of turnips.  “sa RUTABAGA” is a “see also” reference, and links to a page about the subject of rutabagas.  “xx VEGETABLE” is what the Index calls a “tracing” reference — it’s broader than a “see also” reference, and includes a detailed list of all the vegetable-y subjects in the index, from ARTICHOKE to PLANT.

Some of the “see also” references are missing from the online version (I checked the “see also”s I cited in my review: there is no longer a “macadamia” entry referring you to “nut & nut culture,” nor is there one for “basting fabric” directing you to “sewing”).   But with a little clicking around you should be able to find the subject you need.

Of course, to use the Index to How To Do It Information effectively, you’ll still have to go to the library, find the magazine that has the article you want, and read it in paper or on microfilm.  Computers can only do so much.


30 – labyrinths & mazes
02.16.2006, 12:02 pm
Filed under: social sciences

Labyrinths & mazes : a complete guide to magical paths of the world / Jeff Saward. 
New York : Lark Books, 2003.
[MCL call number: 302.222 S271L 2003; eight copies, no holds]

People have been making mazes and labyrinths in all kinds of media in most parts of the world for thousands of years.  Saward’s book provides an introduction to these complex works of art and science — from small-scale decorative motifs to enormous walkable creations of turf, hedge, stone, and tile.  He gives particular attention to the history of labyrinths in Europe and the ancient Mediterranean, turf labyrinths, garden mazes, labyrinths in medieval European Christian art, and modern mazes.

Labyrinths & Mazes has a nice bibliography arranged in the same way as the chapters of the main text, with a few extras at the end under the heading “Select Further Reading;” as well as a solid subject index.  It is well-illustrated with black and white diagrams, maps, and color photographs on nearly every page.

My one hesitation in recommending Labyrinths & Mazes is that I think the subtitle overstates the book’s scope a bit — labyrinths and mazes from many parts of the world are indeed described, but I have some doubt as to whether the book is truly a complete guide all regions.  Africa, India, and the Americas are only briefly discussed, and the focus is very much on Europe.

30 – diy
02.16.2006, 12:01 pm
Filed under: social sciences

DIY : the rise of lo-fi culture / by Amy Spencer. 
London ; New York : Marion Boyars, 2005.
[MCL call number: 306.4 S745d 2005; three copies, no holds]

Despite the somewhat general title, DIY : The Rise of Lo-fi Culture discusses only two cultural media: independently produced and distributed, noncommercialized music and literature.  Zines (which can loosely be defined as independently produced periodicals) are the focus of the literature discussion.  Spencer attempts to answer questions about the history of and antecedents to these cultural movements, the objects they have produced, and what these things mean in a larger context. 

To help my review make sense, I’ll tell you a bit about myself. 

I was raised in something of a counterculture environment.  My parents were artists and I went to an alternative school where the improvisational drama class counted toward the state requirement that high school students should have four years of English (“communication,” in the language of the state standards).  People all around me were involved in producing culture.  My classmates were filmmakers and played in rock bands, my mother hosted a weekly life drawing group at our house, family friends were poets and essayists and potters and glass workers.  But still I was inculcated with the notion that if someone wrote a book and published it themselves, it was only because it wasn’t good enough to be put out by a “real” publishing house.  I was an adult before I had shaken this misguided idea out of my head.

When I picked up DIY, I was very excited because I thought someone who poured an enormous amount of energy into writing 200 pages on independent publishing will surely have something really new to tell me about the history of zines.  I can think of some places to look for zine history — the samizdat of Russia and the eastern bloc, publications of the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 70s, popular broadsides sold for pennies in the 1700s, pamphlets of the Spanish Civil War, magazines run by artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance, writing of the African independence movements of the mid-20th century — but I’m not educated enough about these possibilities to know if they relate to contemporary zine publishing in the least. 

I wanted Spencer to know.  I wanted her look at the history of zines to shine a light on other under-appreciated pieces of the world’s cultural history.  Instead, the best she can do is provide a competent but mostly unoriginal account showing that contemporary zines look back to Dada, to the Beats, to the sci-fi fanzines of the 30s and the punk zines of the 70s, and to the underground newspaper movement of the 1960s.

Spencer’s survey of the history of independent music is also competent, but not spectacular.  I am less qualified to critique this section than her study of independent publishing — my knowledge of music is simply that of a listener — I am not passionate about the medium, and I am not intimate with any of the trends, movements, or “scenes” described in Spencer’s history.  Perhaps this is why I enjoyed the section on music more than the sections on zines and publishing — even though many of Spencer’s stories about the history of independent music were familiar to me, I had never troubled to consider how these stories fit together, how they help form a fabric that can be used to understand a wider swathe of culture than any one piece could hope to influence.

Nonetheless, I have a lot of quarrels with this book. 

Overall, DIY was hard for me to read, partly because Spencer’s prose is often confusing (e.g.: “So began the tradition of lo-fi music, the concept of not trying to seek out new technology to produce your music,” in reference to British skiffle music of the 1950s, page 219), but also because I couldn’t ignore her unacknowledged tight focus on the United States and Britain, and because I found her analysis lacking. 

Many times in the book, Spencer comes back to a central theme: lo-fi culture is what people create just because they want to create and they want to share.  Anyone can do this, anyone who wants to should, and it’s worth supporting.  Spencer quotes zinesters, musicians and others explaining how actively participating in culture affects them as individuals, but she provides only scant reflection on what this means for individuals or for culture at large.  She never gives attention to how this independent cultural empowerment affects the rest of society, or about its possibility to create cultural change outside of the “scene” or the “underground.”

So, my recommendation is, give this book to people who are just beginning to consider the idea that anyone can be a creator and an active participant in culture.  Read it yourself, if you would like a beginner’s background on a few of the different influences that have led people in the United States and the UK to commit themselves seriously to the project of creating and honoring this kind of cultural product.  But do not expect DIY to provide a comprehensive analysis of the history of homemade music and literature, remember that the book focuses almost entirely on only two countries, and prepare yourself for some less-than-elegant prose.

If you are interested in reading more about sci-fi fanzines of the 1930s and later, you are in luck.  Their history is covered at length by a book by Frederic Wertham, a man more famous for inspiring the censorious Comics Code than for his interest in independently produced periodicals.  You Portlanders are really lucky, because this out-of-print gem can be found at your library:

The world of fanzines; a special form of communication. / [Frederic Wertham].
Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press [1973].
[MCL call number: 808.3 W488w; one copy, no holds]

30 – revolutionary tides
02.16.2006, 12:00 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Revolutionary tides : the art of the political poster, 1914-1989 / Jeffrey T. Schnapp. 
Milano, Italy : Skira in association with Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University ; New York : Distributed in North America by Rizzoli, 2005.
[MCL call number: 741.67 S357r 2005; two copies, no holds]

It is something of a cliché that longing to be part of something larger than ourselves is a basic human characteristic.  We are social animals, and we like to be around other people; even, sometimes, when being with other people means being in a crowd.

Schnapp and several other researchers in the Humanities Laboratory at Stanford University are engaged in a study of crowds, which led to an exhibit of political propaganda posters of the twentieth century.  Revolutionary Tides is the catalog of this exhibition, with color illustrations of 117 posters.

What I find most interesting about this kind of poster is the emotional response they evoke in me.  I'm sure it's partly due to the fact that their artistic style appeals to me, but I think there are other reasons too.  The surest power of this medium is perhaps to pull us slightly out of our own lives. 

Here's an example: on page 112 of Revolutionary Tides there is a recruitment poster for the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women's branch of the British army during the Second World War) — looking at the poster I felt a jump in my heart and it made me realize how very much I would want to do something collective and constructive if I were living actually in a war zone.  I would like to think that joining the military would never fill this need for me, but were I a suggestible young woman at the right time and place, I might well heed the call of that poster.

There are many books detailing the history of twentieth century political posters, especially posters produced during the first and second world wars.  This one is somewhat unusual in that it covers a longer period of time, concentrates on posters depicting crowds and masses, and includes posters from many different countries and political perspectives.  Most of the illustrations are of posters from the United States, the USSR, and Germany, but there are some also from Iran, Poland, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Hungary, and other countries.

There is no index, but the book's main section of illustrations is followed by detailed notes about each poster, and by a terse bibliography. 

The Revolutionary Tides exhibit is currently on tour and will be at the Wolfsonian museum at Florida International University in Miami Beach, Florida from February 24 – June 25 of this year.