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Bloomsbury's Addictive 'Object Lessons' Book Series

Have you heard abou the the amazing, addictive Object Lessons book series put out by the publishing house Bloomsbury?

Bloomsbury's Object Lessons Book SeriesThese are small books, less than 5 by 7 inches and not much more than 100 pages, and are focused on singular, specific subjects—often specific to the point of banality, as you can see from the illustration of sample titles in the illustration above. And yet, from those tiny starting points, these books take you in multiple unexpected directions. It is therefore not surprising that in Phone Booth, author and English Lit/Comparative Religion professor Ariana Kelly quotes Proust: “The past is hidden somewhere outside the realm, beyond the reach of intellect, in some material object (in the sensation which that material object will give us) of which we have no inkling.”

And where does Phone Booth take us? To Holden Caulfield wandering into New York City phone booths in Catcher in the Rye; to the disconnected phone booth set up in the ruins of Ōtsuchi, Japan after the 2011 earthquake, where people gathered to send conversations in the wind to those they had lost; to phone booths in movies from Goodfellas to The Matrix to Rosemary’s Baby to The Birds to Trading Places; to the podcast Serial, much of which hinges on a phone booth which may or may not exist; to Carlos Castaneda and his abandoned nonfiction book Dial Operator, and who in his secretive way only made calls from pay phones; to Howard Hughes, who had the Beverly Hills Hotel install a phone booth in his bungalow...and regularly swap it out for another one; to Rick Carr, who was directed by the Holy Spirit to camp out by an isolated phone booth in the middle of the Mojave Desert and answer the calls that came in; to the astounding numbers of suicides which take place in phone booths; to, of course, Doctor Who and Superman; and to so much more.



Remembering the 'Hippie Trail' of the 1960s and '70s

I have so many books I’ve collected during and after trips all over the world, books on Latin America, Kenya, India, Nepal, Tibet, Turkey and Morocco. Today, I'm browsing through some of my books on the old Hippie Trail, the overland journey from Istanbul, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to India and Nepal.

The heyday of the hippie trail was the 1960s and 70s, before war, revolution and politics made the middle section of the overland journey difficult. It has opened up somewhat in the past couple decades. I missed the heyday: my pair of two-month trips to India, Nepal, and Tibet were in 1998 and 2000, and my visit to Istanbul in 2008.

There are plenty of books about the hippie trail, and I’ve read a few. In Rory MacLean’s Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail From Istanbul to India, the author revisits the trail forty years later to see what remains. A scene in Afghanistan encapsulates the vibe as a bus to Herat picks him up in the middle of nowhere:

On impulse, I sweep a strip of grit off its mottled surface. I see the crude ”Flying Muslim Coach” logo has been painted over flaking portraits of sultry beauties, their faces scratched out years earlier by Taliban fanatics. I brush away another coat of dirt and discover Russian words beneath the portraits, faded reminders of the Soviet occupation. With both arms, I rub again, pushing back another decade, reaching deeper into the collage and discovering that the Cyrillic characters themselves efface psychedelic, Day-Glo peace symbols.

The bus driver, thrilled to have his bus honored by the presence of a too-rare tourist, ejects the Afghan pop music cassette that is blaring, digs deep into a box and pops in a cassette of The Who. “Music for you! For you!”


Send A Runner: A Navajo Honors the Long Walk, by Jim Kristofic & Edison Eskeets

Send a Runner: A Navajo Honors the Long Walk, by Jim Kristofic and Edison Eskeets, is one of those books that manages to be simultaneously uplifting and melancholia-inducing.

The inspiration comes from Edison Eskeets himself. He is a Navajo, or Diné, a former All-American runner who also ran running camps for youth all around the Reservation. In 2018, he decided to honor the 150th anniversary of the Navajo return to their homeland after the Long Walk by running the route, 330 miles in 15 days, roughly a marathon each day. He was 59 years old at the time.

Send A Runner: A Navajo Honors the Long Walk, by Jim Kristofic & Edison EskeetsThe melancholy comes from reading the history of the Diné tribe from their first encounters with the Spaniards, and up to and including the Long Walk itself. It is a violent history, filled with slaughter, village-burning, livestock theft and enslavement. Not all was against the Diné, it is true: they defended themselves with at times deadly force as well. But as the decades flow by, their losses grow inexorably, culminating in 1864 with the U.S. Government forcing them from their land in what has come to be called The Long Walk. This forced march to a barren, military-controlled location in eastern New Mexico resulted in so much death and demoralization that it can only be seen as an attempt at ethnic cleansing. It is estimated that one-third of the Diné died.

“The Diné are adopting a name for the Americans. Bellicanas. Biligaanas. The Fighters. There is another meaning in the name. Some say Bilání joghal’ndi — They Are Many and Keep Coming.”


A May Day Look at Indie Publisher Haymarket Books

It’s May Day, and to celebrate this important Labor commemoration (in most of the world, anyway,) we’re spotlighting Haymarket Books. This indie publisher celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. As you might guess from its name, they are based in Chicago and take their inspiration from the 1886 Haymarket Affair, that essential landmark in U.S. labor politics. Their mission statement is “to publish books that contribute to struggles for social and economic justice, including books that wouldn’t necessarily find a home in a more risk-averse publishing world dominated by a few large corporations.”


Publisher W.W. Norton pulls Philip Roth bio after sexual assault allegations against biographer

Cover of Philip Roth: A Biography, by Blake BaileyPublisher W.W. Norton has pulled the recently published biography of Philip Roth from distribution after allegations of sexual assault against the biographer Blake Bailey. This is a huge move, as the book, published April 7th, was considered one of the biggest books of the publishing season. W.W.

Book Review: The Madman's Library

”I have known men to hazard their fortunes, go long journeys halfway about the world, forget friendships, even lie, cheat, and steal, all for the gain of a book.” A. S. W. Rosenbach, rare book dealer, 1927

Book Review: Flight of the Diamond Smugglers by Matthew Gavin Frank

In Greg Campbell’s 2002 book Blood Diamonds, which, along with the subsequent Leonardo DiCaprio movie, gave widespread publicity to the horrors of the diamond trade, there is this single line: “One worker at the same site stole diamonds by tying a small bag to a homing pigeon, which would fly the diamonds back to his house.”

Book Review: Last Chance Texaco by Rickie Lee Jones


I’m taking a leap by basing this week’s essay on Last Chance Texaco, the memoir by Rickie Lee Jones, coming out April 6th from Grove Press.

The truth is, I’ve never been all that interested in music bios. I might be an outlier on that: music biographies are generally very popular. But for me, the creation and its performance was always the main event, while the backstory—the life of the artist—never really pulled my interest.

Book Review: Wonderworks by Angus Fletcher

Technology has never been my strong point, and I’ve long held that if human progress relied on me, we’d still be naked in caves and communicating in grunts. Had you and I been sitting together in ancient times staring out at a meadow of tall grasses, I never would have been the one who said “You know what sounds great? Gathering the seeds off those stalks, grinding them to a powder, mixing it with a little water, flattening it and setting it on a hot stone to bake. Yummy!”

Hot New Nonfiction From the First Half of March

Each week, hundreds of new books are released by publishers, and each week I dutifully go through the list. Here are some nonfiction highlights from March 1st through 16th.