Duck Duck Book

addendum to number 40
12.21.2006, 3:30 pm
Filed under: events, zines

Dear Readers,
I am pleased to announce the arrival of Multnomah County Library’s brand new zine collection!  (What’s a zine, you ask?  The short answer is: an independently produced publication.  But there’s lots more to it than that; take a look at a bit of a long answer.)

Zines are on the shelf and ready for you to read and check out at Central, Hollywood, Midland, North Portland, Northwest, and Sellwood-Moreland libraries.  The collection includes a myriad of fascinating zines on subjects such as women’s experiences in prison, vegan cooking, political theory, bicycling, fat activism, college radio, and more.  The library also has fiction and short story zines, and zines relating personal experiences working as a camp counselor, being a modern mom, living with disease,  and many other topics.

So, if you’re here in Portland you should stop by the library and take a look — whether you’ve never heard of zines or are an aficionado, I’m sure you’ll find something to pique your interest.

And, the library’s zine staff will be hosting a grand opening party on January 28, 2007, from 12-3 p.m. in the Periodicals room, on the second floor of Central Library.  There will be donuts and hot beverages, so come eat, celebrate, and perhaps do a bit of reading too (and we can all try not to get the zines too sticky!).


40 – lucifer
12.19.2006, 8:24 pm
Filed under: comix, fiction

Lucifer [comic book series] / Mike Carey, writer ; [various artists] ; Daniel Vozzo, colorist ; [various letters] ; based on characters created by Neil Gaiman, Sam Kieth and Mike Dringenberg.
New York : DC Comics, c2001- .
[MCL call number: GN CAREY; number of copies and holds vary for each volume]

First, imagine that the Devil is real. Now speculate on what would happen if he left Hell — just walked away from the place without a care for what would happen there without him.

This is the beginning of a tangent left unfinished by one of our generation’s greatest storytellers, Neil Gaiman, in his epic The Sandman. Carey has taken up the tale of Lucifer and run screaming past the end of the world and back again, several times. Anyone who read even the teensiest bit of Sandman and enjoyed it (or, I have on good authority though I have not read it myself, anyone who is familiar with Milton’s Paradise Lost) will find easy entry into this sharply beautiful series of comics.

40 – the works
12.19.2006, 8:23 pm
Filed under: social sciences

The works : anatomy of a city / Kate Ascher ; researched by Wendy Marech ; designed by Alexander Isley, Inc.
New York : Penguin Press, 2005.
[307.1216 A813w 2005; six copies, one hold]

One of the magic things about cities is that they are incredibly, incredibly complex.  Even a pre-industrial era city was supported by dozens of important infrastructural systems: sewers, canals, marketplaces, streets, civic fortifications, communications networks.  Modern cities require even more layers of infrastructure, and it all has to be more or less reliably available in thousands (if not millions) of locations over a large geographical area.

The Works breaks down the different layers of modern U.S. city infrastructure into sections (moving people, moving freight, power, communications, keeping the city clean, and the future of civic infrastructure) and provides detailed explanations of how they work, using New York City as an example.  This use of New York City’s infrastructure to illustrate city infrastructure in general works well to provides a concrete basis for each chapter, but it also pulls readers into the story of one fairly enigmatic city.  For example, Ascher begins her explanation of how city postal delivery service works with a two page spread describing Manhattan’s pneumatic tube mail network (in operation from 1897 to 1953).  I found this fascinating, but I would guess it’s not a very good example of how metropolitan mail systems typically work.

In fact, while reading the book’s most New York-specific bits, I often wished that Ascher had made more of an effort to discuss them in the context of other cities.  There is a section on New York’s steam network, which heats buildings and provides steam for industrial use throughout midtown and lower Manhattan.  Ascher’s account of the history of the steam system, her description of its technical specifications, and her discussion of steam’s practical uses is both compelling and educational.  But although she begins the chapter with a note that New York’s is the biggest district steam system in the world, and mentions that there are steam systems in Paris and in at least four other U.S. cities, she does not disclose how common municipal steam systems are, nor does she discuss the circumstances under which they are practical, or explain their history in general.  Are they rare, or common?  When were they first installed?  What political and practical factors keep them operating, or not?  Outside of the specific example of New York City’s steam system, readers are none the wiser.

The strategy of using a specific city to illustrate how city systems operate is a good one, but I think it might have been more successful if the example city was more, well, typical of cities in general.  Of course every city is unique and has its foibles, but comparing Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Buffalo, Nashville, Iowa City, Austin, Bakersfield, or Spokane to the rest of the cities in the U.S. might be a little bit less of a stretch.

However, despite my frustration that The Works contributes to a worldwide conspiracy to make New York seem more important and fascinating than it has any right to be, I can highly recommend the book.  Each piece of the story of how city systems work is clearly explained with an intelligent narrative and beautiful, information-rich illustrations.  Many chapters shed a great deal of light on how cities operate — the discussions of rail freight, garbage collection and disposal, road maintenance and traffic management, radio and telecommunications, and electricity are especially illuminating.  The book’s organization is logical and easy to navigate, and the index is competent.  If you are curious to see how mail is moved, how sewers work, what causes potholes and how they are fixed, or how rolling stock is managed, The Works is an excellent place to begin your education.

40 – yesterday’s houses
12.19.2006, 8:22 pm
Filed under: art & entertainment

Yesterday’s houses of tomorrow : innovative American homes, 1850 to 1950 / H. Ward Jandl ; with additional essays by John A. Burns and Michael J. Auer.
Washington, DC : Preservation Press, c1991.
[MCL call number: 728.0973 J33y; two copies, no holds]

Obsession with the future is a national pastime in the United States.  Our culture provides the perfect environment for developing the combination of optimism, faith in man’s domination over nature, and creativity that is required to make futurists welcome as more than just amusing lunatics.  Attempts to get to the future faster have driven inventors, designers, and planners to great and ridiculous heights.  In hindsight, some of their ideas and accomplishments seem brave and intelligent (the standardization of sizes for building materials, solar power), and some seem unworkable or even preposterous (houses made entirely of steel, the nuclear automobile). 

Yesterday’s Houses of Tomorrow explores a slice of the American obsession with the future.  The history of twelve futuristic single-family homes is told in short essays illustrated with architectural drawings and black-and-white photographs.  Catharine Beecher’s ideal house built around the duties of the housewife and the promotion of health and well-being, Thomas Edison’s house made of poured concrete (the entire structure poured at once into complex molds), Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion Living Machine, the all-metal Lustron, and eight other wonders are fully described. 

The houses in the book were, by and large, intended as models for mass production.  Their designers promised they would cost less to build and to live in than traditional houses, be more fitted for the changing needs of the modern family, be healthier, more beautiful, and sturdier.  They were intended to have the potential to be within the reach of the average American financially and socially.  These houses were designed to be tools for advancing our society.  Entire neighborhoods, even entire towns and cities were imagined, filled with more perfect houses that could reflect the modern spirit of their inhabitants, possibly even drag them into the future. 

Sadly, most of these incredible houses never advanced beyond the prototype stage, though elements of some have changed the building industry forever.  It is interesting how much we have to learn from old ideas of what the future will bring.  Many of the houses Jandl, Burns, and Auer describe look eminently livable to me.  I live in a small house, and would love a rolling, expandable dining room table or a bed that would fold down from the wall either inside into the bedroom, or out into the yard on warm summer nights.  Doesn’t that sound nice?