Duck Duck Book

35 – manstealing for fat girls
07.17.2006, 2:54 pm
Filed under: fiction

Manstealing for fat girls / Michelle Embree. 
Brooklyn, NY : Soft Skull Press, c2005.
[MCL call number: FICTION EMBREE; seven copies, no holds]
Angie Neuweather thinks she’s fat.  In grade school she was given the unfortunate nickname “Lezzylard,” and it stuck like glue, especially once Angie’s best friend Shelby came out as a dyke.  Angie’s mom has a loser boyfriend who is moving in to their apartment.  She doesn’t know who her dad is.  She doesn’t get on well at school, and there isn’t much to look forward to in her grim suburban St. Louis neighborhood.  Everything sucks.  Daily life breeds fantasies such as:

“There should be a horror movie called Cafeteria.  A hundred teenagers trapped inside with nothing to do.  And when the popular kids get tired of being so wonderful and pretty and cool, they start slowly killing the rejects by eating little slices of them.  Little raw slices, with sides of powdered mash potatoes and canned green beans.” (page 2)

In this book, being a teenager is totally about waiting for something to happen on the one hand, and on the other, rushing around like you’re on crank (whether you are or not) just to get shit done.  Angie and Shelby’s odd circle of friends, acquaintances, and family members hang roughly together as life passes by, getting high, skipping school, having sex, bragging, and pontificating about nothing — damn, sound familiar? And, when small circumstances conspire to scrape across Angie’s life in a very uncomfortable way, she and her people find a way to cut through the shit and (almost) make things right.

The story is great, there’s no doubt, but it’s not just the plot that makes this a good book.  Embree’s intelligently descriptive writing gets the job done without fireworks — her dialogue, in particular, is simple and unpredictable and so vivid that it’s almost like no one had to write it at all.  You won’t be disappointed.


35 – twentieth-century building materials
07.17.2006, 2:53 pm
Filed under: technology

Twentieth-century building materials : history and conservation / edited by Thomas C. Jester. 
New York : McGraw-Hill, c1995.
[MCL call number: 691 T971 1995; one copy, no holds]
If you have a desire to learn about the history of plywood, architectural glass brick, shotcrete, monel metal, asphalt shingles, or prismatic glass, you need go no further than this charming reference.  Thirty-five different building materials are discussed, in sections devoted to metals, concrete, wood and plastics, masonry, glass, flooring, and roofing, siding, and walls. 

Among the concerns addressed are: how was this material invented or developed, and by whom?  how was it originally used, and how did it evolve or fall out of use over time?  how was it installed?  where will you find it (geographically, and in what sort of use in what sort of building)?  does the material have particular weaknesses that result in a typical kind of damage over time?  what steps should one take to conserve this material?  how would one go about replacing it, if necessary?

I am sure this is a useful work for people who are responsible for the maintenance and renovation of historic buildings, or who study them.  The book’s dual focus on history and conservation is unusual and quite refreshing.  For me, the book has little practical use (though it’s nice to get an authoritative viewpoint on how to tend my 75 year old linoleum floor), but I found it simply fascinating to read.  In some cases, I’d never heard of the material at all (monel metal?  what’s that?), and in others I was surprised at how long something had been in common use (gypsum board is the best example of this — it was first produced in 1894, who knew?).  Every essay is educational, and most are entertaining.

Each entry is illustrated with contemporary advertisements and instructive materials, and modern photographs of buildings displaying the material in question, and the text is followed by a wonderful bibliography of writings on each building material, a resource list of libraries, archives, research institutions, indexes and databases, bibliographies, reference materials, and professional and trade associations.  There is also an index.

35 – cheap quick & easy
07.17.2006, 2:52 pm
Filed under: technology

Cheap, quick, & easy : imitative architectural materials, 1870-1930 / Pamela H. Simpson. 
Knoxville : University of Tennessee Press, c1999.
[MCL call number: 691.09 S613c 1999; two copies, no holds]

For those of you who would like more historical detail than Twentieth Century Building Materials (reviewed above) provides, here is the next book in your new reading project.  Six substantial chapters discussing the history and application of concrete block, ornamental sheet metal, metal ceilings and walls, linoleum, and embossed wall and ceiling coverings, followed by a detailed and careful discussion of the debate about the social and cultural implications of imitative materials in Great Britain and the United States, should satisfy.  (I enjoyed it!)

Simpson’s smoothly-written text is followed by a glossary, bibliography, and an index.

35 – brick
07.17.2006, 2:51 pm
Filed under: events, films

Brick [film] / Bergman Lustig Productions ; written and directed by Rian Johnson.
Universal City, CA : Focus Features, 2005.
[Multnomah County Library does not have this film, but for you Portlanders, it is currently playing at the Laurelhurst and St. John’s Pub Theaters]

Brick is a murder mystery simultaneously in the old school and in the dark underbelly of modern-day America; it’s like film noir goes to high school. Brendan, the protagonist and detective, is sort of like an 11th grade Philip Marlowe — he definitely has a plan of action to get from the dead body to an understanding of what went down and how it fits into everything else, but he plays his cards close to his chest (even if you’re on the other side of the film’s fourth wall), is willing to get the shit kicked out of him any time it’s a shortcut to information, and he is absolutely rock solid about who’s side he is on.

To say that Brick is like a high school noir makes it sound like it must be completely ironic, if only to avoid being ridiculous. But Brick is not ironic, on the whole, and it damned sure isn’t ridiculous. The same story could have been written, directed, designed, or acted differently to make it tongue-in-cheek, but the electricity of the film as it has been made is largely that it is straight up, no chaser.

See Brick while it’s still on the large screen. You will probably need a stiff drink, a massage, or a hot bath afterwards from 90 minutes of plot tension, obscure teenager slang, and unrelenting workaday violence and anguish, but I do not think the movie would be as, well, as big, on the smaller screen. And if nothing else, noir should be big. It hurts more that way.

N.b.: Despite the fact that I recommend you see Brick in a theater, it has been released on dvd:

Brick / by Rian Johnson; Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Lukas Haas; Emilie De Ravin; Focus Features.; Universal Pictures.
Universal City, CA : Focus Features : Distributed by Universal Pictures, 2006.

[thanks, Kristian]