Taschen Running a Big Warehouse Sale with Books Up To 75% Off (June 21-24)

FYI: Taschen--the publisher of books on art, architecture, cinema, photography and design--is now running a major sale. Until June 24th, a large number of books will be 25% to 75% off. Rummage away...

 

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Barack Obama Shares a List of Enlightening Books Worth Reading

Photo by Pete Souza via obamawhitehouse.archive.gov

Whatever historians have to say about his political legacy, Barack Obama will be remembered as charming, diplomatic, thoughtful, and very well-read. He honed these personal qualities not only as a politician but as a scholar, writer, and teacher, roles that require intellectual curiosity and openness to other points of view. The former president was something of a dream come true for teachers and librarians, who could point to him as a shining example of a world leader who loves to read, talk about books, and share books with others. All kinds of books: from novels and poetry to biography, philosophy, sociology, and political and scientific nonfiction; books for children and books for young adults.

It is refreshing to look back at his tenure as a reliable recommender of quality books during his eight years in office. (See every book he recommended during his two terms here.) Reading gave him the ability to “slow down and get perspective,” he told Michiko Kakutani last year. He hoped to use his office, he said, “to widen the audience for good books. At a time when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify—as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize—is more important than ever.”




While many people have been hoping he would weigh in on deeply disturbing current events, he “has been relatively quiet on social media of late,” notes Thu-Huong Ha at Quartz. But he has continued to use his platform to recommend good books, suggesting that the perspectives we gain from reading are as critical as ever. “In a Facebook post published on Saturday, Obama recommended some of the nonfiction he’s read recently, focused on government, inequality, and history, with one book that addresses immigration. Together the recommendations are an intellectual antidote to the current US president, who eschews reading,” says Ha.

The list below includes Obama’s brief commentary on each book and article.

Futureface: A Family Mystery, an Epic Quest, and the Secret to Belonging, by Alex Wagner (2018)

Journalist Alex Wagner investigates a potential new twist in her family’s history. “What she came up with,” Obama writes, “is a thoughtful, beautiful meditation on what makes us who we are—the search for harmony between our own individual identities and the values and ideals that bind us together as Americans.”

The New Geography of Jobs, by Enrico Moretti (2012)

Economist Enrico Moretti argues that there are three Americas: brain-hub cities like Austin and Boston; cities once dominated by traditional manufacturing; and the cities in between. “Still a timely and smart discussion of how different cities and regions have made a changing economy work for them,” writes Obama, “and how policymakers can learn from that to lift the circumstances of working Americans everywhere.”

Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick J. Deneen (2018)

Political scientist Patrick J. Deneen argues that liberalism is not the result of the natural state of politics and lays out the ideology’s inherent contradictions. “In a time of growing inequality, accelerating change, and increasing disillusionment with the liberal democratic order we’ve known for the past few centuries,” says the former president, “I found this book thought-provoking.”

“The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy,” by Matthew Stewart (June 2018)

In The Atlantic, Matthew Stewart, author of The Management Myth, defines a “cognitive elite,” a “9.9%” of Americans who value meritocracy and, he argues, are complicit in the erosion of democracy. “Another thought-provoking analysis, this one about how economic inequality in America isn’t just growing, but self-reinforcing,” says Obama.

In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History, by Mitch Landrieu (2018)

Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana, writes in his memoir of the personal history and reckoning with race that led him to take down four Confederate statues in 2017. “It’s an ultimately optimistic take from someone who believes the South will rise again not by reasserting the past, but by transcending it,” writes Obama.

“Truth Decay: An Initial Exploration of the Diminishing Role of Facts and Analysis in American Public Life,” by Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich, RAND Corporation (2018)

This report for the nonprofit RAND Corporation, available as a free ebook, attempts to study the erosion of fact-based policy making and discourse in the US. “A look at how a selective sorting of facts and evidence isn’t just dishonest, but self-defeating,” says Obama.

While the former president no longer has the power to sway policy, he can still inspire millions of people to read—essential for staying balanced, informed, and reflective in our perilous times.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear David Lynch Read from His New Memoir Room to Dream, and Browse His New Online T-Shirt Store

We think of David Lynch as a filmmaker, and rightly so, but the director of EraserheadBlue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive has long kept a more diverse creative portfolio. He began as a painter, studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and has also tried his hand at photographymusic, and comic strips. More recently, writes the AV Club's Randall Colburn, "Lynch has also released his own line of coffee, collaborated on Twin Peaks-themed beer and skateboards, and created his own festival. His latest endeavor? T-shirts, which is wild because it’s hard to imagine the ever-dapper filmmaker ever wearing one."

Perhaps a line of Lynch-approved traditional white shirts, made to be buttoned all the way up even without a tie, remains in development. But for now, fans choose from the 57 T-shirts designs now available at Studio: David Lynch's Amazon store. All suitable for wearing to your local revival house, they include "Turkey Cheese Head," "Cowboy," "Small Dog,""Small Barking Dog,"and "You Gotta Be Kiddin' Me." What kind of life, now solidly into its eighth decade, has both enabled and driven Lynch to make not just so many things, but so many Lynchian things? Perhaps we can find a few answers within the nearly 600 pages of Room to Dream, Lynch's new memoir.

"Fans who share Lynch’s pleasure in mystery will approach this book anxiously, hoping that his secrets may somehow be both revealed and sustained," writes the Washington Post's Charles Arrowsmith of the book, an excerpt of which you can hear read by Lynch himself above. (He begins by saying "I'm going to tell you a story about my grandparents" and ends with the image of his young self vomiting into a helmet he'd brought to school for show-and-tell.) And those who fear that the conventionality of the memoir form might flatten out Lynch's idiosyncrasies can rest assured that "in telling his life story, Lynch demonstrates the same disregard for causality and tonal consistency that marks his films."

Despite including not just Lynch's perspective but the perspectives of many others ("surprisingly candid ex-wives, family members, actors, agents, musicians, and colleagues in various fields," proclaims the jacket copy), "Room to Dream pulls off a neat trick in drawing back a curtain and revealing relatively little. Despite the book’s heft, there’s not much to explicate the mysteries of Lynch’s work. But then, for him, the mystery’s the thing. To explain would be to destroy. What we get instead is insight into his creative process." As dedicated Lynch enthusiasts understand, the creative process, which throughout his career has led him not to answers but ever more strangely compelling questions, is everything.

Note: When Room to Dream comes out on June 19th, you can download the audiobook version, which Lynch helps narrate, for free if you sign up for Audible's free trial program. We have details on that program here.

Related Content:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Ralph Steadman Creates an Unorthodox Illustrated Biography of Sigmund Freud, the Father of Psychoanalysis (1979)

Sigmund Freud died in 1939, and the nearly eight decades since haven't been kind to his psychoanalytical theories, but in some sense he survives. "For many years, even as writers were discarding the more patently absurd elements of his theory — penis envy, or the death drive — they continued to pay homage to Freud’s unblinking insight into the human condition," writes the New Yorker's Louis Menand. He claims that Freud thus evolved, "in the popular imagination, from a scientist into a kind of poet of the mind. And the thing about poets is that they cannot be refuted. No one asks of 'Paradise Lost': But is it true? Freud and his concepts, now converted into metaphors, joined the legion of the undead."

The master of a legion of undead psychological metaphors — who, in the ranks of living illustrators, could be more suited to render such a figure than Ralph Steadman? And how many of us know that he actually did so in 1979, when he produced an "art-biography" of the "Father of Psychoanalysis"?




Sigmund Freud, which has spent long stretches out of print since its first publication, tells the story of Freud's life, beginning with his childhood in Austria to his death, not long after his emigration in flight from the Nazis, in London. It was there that he met Virginia Woolf, who in her diary describes him as "a screwed up shrunk very old man: with a monkey’s light eyes, paralyzed spasmodic movements, inarticulate: but alert."

There, again, Freud sounds like one of Steadman's drawings, sometimes outwardly unappealing but always possessed of an unignorable vitality generated by a solid core of perceptiveness. Earlier chapters of Freud's life, characterized by intellectual as well as physical vigorousness aided by the 19th-century "miracle drug" of cocaine, also give the illustrator rich material to work with. One can't help but think of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which forged a permanent cultural link between Steadman's art and Hunter S. Thompson's prose. How "true" is the drug-fueled desert odyssey that book recounts? More so, perhaps, than many of Freud's supposedly scientific discoveries. But as with the work of Freud, so with that of Thompson and Steadman: we return to it not because we want the truth, exactly, but because we can't turn away from the often grotesque versions of ourselves it shows us.

You can pick up a copy of Steadman's illustrated Sigmund Freud here.

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Ralph Steadman’s Wildly Illustrated Biography of Leonardo da Vinci (1983)

Gonzo Illustrator Ralph Steadman Draws the American Presidents, from Nixon to Trump

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Download 50,000 Art Books & Catalogs from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Digital Collections


If you’ve lived in or visited New York City, you must know the laughable futility of trying to “do the Met” in a day, or even a weekend. Not only is the museum enormous, but its permanent collections demand to be studied in detail, an activity one cannot rush through with any satisfaction. If you’re headed there for a special exhibit, be especially disciplined—make a beeline and do not stop to linger over elaborate Edo-period samurai armor or austere Shaker-made furniture.

I thought I’d learned my lesson after many years of residence in the city. When I returned last summer for a visit, family in tow, I vowed to head straight for the Rei Kawakubo exhibit, listing all other priorities beneath it. More fool me.




Immediate overwhelm overtook as we entered, on a weekend, in a crush of tourist noise. After hours spent admiring sarcophagi, neoclassical paintings, etc., etc., we had to nix the exhibit and push our way into Central Park for fresh air and recuperative ice cream.

Does an exhibition checklist, with photographs and descriptions of every piece on display, make up for missing the Kawakubo in person? Not exactly, but at least I can linger over it, virtually, in solitude and at my leisure. If you value this experience, cannot make it to the Met, or want to see several hundred past exhibitions from the comfort of your home, you can do so easily thanks to the wealth of catalogs the Met has uploaded to its Digital Collections.

These catalogs document special exhibits not only at the New York landmark, but also at galleries around the world from the past 100 years or so. In a recent blog post, the Met points to one such scanned catalog—out of almost a hundred from the Hungarian Gallery Nemzeti Szalon—from a 1957 exhibition of sculptor Miklós Borsos. The text is in Hungarian, but the artwork (further up), in detailed black and white photographs, speaks a universal visual language.

These catalogs join the thousands of books—50,000 titles in all—at the Met’s Digital Collections. There, you’ll find collections such as Rare Books Published in Imperial and Early Soviet Russia, with unusual treasures like the book Churches of Uglich, a survey of one Russian town’s churches, with photos, from the 1880s. “Interested in Dada?” asks the Met, and who isn’t? The museum has just added a 1917 issue of journal The Blind Man, edited by Marcel Duchamp and containing Alfred Stieglitz’s photograph of Duchamp’s found art prank Fountain.

If fashion’s your thing, the museum has added thousands of Bergdorf Goodman sketches from 1929 to 1952 (see a particularly elegant example above from the 1930s). Maybe you’re into the history of the Met itself? If so, check out this massive collection of historical images of the museum, inside and out, dating from its inception in 1870 to the present. There’s even a selection of photos of its iconic special exhibition banners from 1970 through 2004 (like that below from 1982).

If you’re headed to the Met to see one of these special exhibits, take my advice and don’t get distracted once you’re inside. But if you want to access a range of the museum’s cultural treasures from afar, you can’t do any better than browsing its Digital Collections, where you’re also likely to get lost for hours, maybe days.

Related Content:

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hear Philip Roth Read from Five of His Major Novels: Sabbath’s Theater, The Ghost Writer and More

"I saw and heard something remarkable just a few hours ago," wrote New Yorker editor David Remnick a little over five years ago, "something I’m not likely to forget until all the mechanisms of remembering are shot and I’m tucked away for good." He had attended an eightieth-birthday celebration for the late Philip Roth at the Newark Museum. There, after a series of tributes from fellow literary figures including Jonathan Lethem, Hermione Lee, and Edna O'Brien, the Newark-born-and-raised novelist gave what Remnick described as "the most astonishing literary performance I’ve ever witnessed."

Roth began by naming all the memories of his Newark childhood about which he would not speak that evening, from "the newsreels at the Roosevelt Theatre" to "the fights at Laurel Garden" to "seeing Jackie Robinson play for the Montreal Royals against the Newark Bears, at Ruppert Stadium" and much else besides. Then, after admitting that he had committed paralipsis, the rhetorical technique of bringing up a subject by saying that you won't, "Roth finally settled into his real theme of the night: death. Happy birthday, indeed!"

You can hear Roth's performance in its 45-minute entirety in this video, in which he also reads a passage from 1995's Sabbath's Theater. You can see Roth giving another reading from that book, which he calls his favorite (and also "death-haunted"), in the 92Y video at the top of the post.




Its title character, the sex-obsessed 63-year-old puppeteer Mickey Sabbath, exists as a law unto himself. He lives a chaotic, sordidly pleasure-seeking life in response, Roth explains, "to a place where nothing keeps its promise and everything is perishable."

Among Roth's 31 books, the standalone Sabbath's Theater lays a fair claim to the title of his masterpiece. But unlike other memorable Roth protagonists, Sabbath starred in no other books. The most sprawling character-connected series Roth wrote, which spans nine books written over nearly three decades, features novelist and authorial alter ego Nathan Zuckerman.

You can hear Roth read selections from the first three Zuckerman novels, 1979's The Ghost Writer (also known as Zuckerman Bound), 1981's Zuckerman Unbound, and 1983's The Anatomy Lesson, in the three videos above. Roth's last cycle of novels were connected not by common characters but by their short length and, in their brevity, even more intense explorations of the themes, or theme, always dear to him: what it means to have grown up American at a certain period in history, and how that meaning transforms and deepens with age.

In the video above, Roth reads the end of 2010's Nemesis, his final novelistic meditation on that theme. In it several characters of his generation, then young boys, watch their teacher throw a javelin. "Running with the javelin aloft, stretching his throwing arm back behind his body, bringing the throwing arm through to release the javelin high over his shoulder, and releasing it then like an explosion, he seemed to us invincible." The awe Nemesis' narrator and his friends feel witnessing that athletic mastery, Roth's readers feel — and will continue to feel — witnessing his literary mastery.

Related Content:

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What Was It Like to Have Philip Roth as an English Prof?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How to Use Psychedelic Drugs to Improve Mental Health: Michael Pollan’s New Book, How to Change Your Mind, Makes the Case

The history of research on psychedelic drugs is so sensational that more sober-minded experiments (so to speak) often get obscured by the hip, the weird, and the nefarious, the latter including secret CIA and Army testing of LSD and other drugs as a means of psychological warfare and “enhanced interrogation.” These experiments inadvertently led to Ken Kesey’s infamous “Acid Tests” in Northern California. On the other side of the country, Harvard psychologist Timothy Leary used questionable methods in his psilocybin experiments with prisoners and students, before getting fired and going on to expand the mind of the counterculture, earning the distinction of having Richard Nixon call him “the most dangerous man in America.”

Meanwhile, working in relative obscurity in very different circumstances in the late 50s, a UC Irvine psychiatrist named Oscar Janiger brought volunteer subjects, including several dozen artists, to a house outside L.A., where they were given LSD and psychotherapy. Janiger’s work has its sensational side—a cousin of Allen Ginsberg, he reportedly introduced Cary Grant, Anais Nin, Jack Nicholson, and Aldous Huxley to acid. But his primary achievement, in data that remained mostly unpublished during his lifetime, were his discoveries of the therapeutic and creative use of psychedelic drugs under controlled conditions with subjects who were prepared for the experience and guided through it by trained professionals.




The experiments conducted by Janiger and others differed markedly from the freewheeling recreational drug use of the counterculture and the weaponization of psychedelics by the U.S. government. In recent years, scientists and psychologists have conducted similar kinds of research under even more tightly controlled conditions, substantiating and expanding on the conclusions of early experimenters who found that psychedelics seem remarkably effective in treating depression, anxiety, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other stubbornly destructive human ills. This research supports with sound evidence LSD inventor Albert Hoffman’s description of his drug as “medicine for the soul.”

While research organizations like MAPS (Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies) have centralized and promoted much of the current research, it’s now getting a huge popular boost from none other than food writer Michael Pollan, bestselling author of books like The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. “A self-described ‘reluctant psychonaut,’” writes NPR, Pollan submitted himself as a test subject for experiments with “LSD, psilocybin and 5-MeO-DMT, a substance in the venom of the Sonoran Desert toad.” He has described his experiences and the work of the research community in a new book titled How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

At the top of the post, see Pollan describe the book in a short video from Penguin. He discusses such ancient ideas (as he has in past writings) of psychoactive drugs as “entheagens”—or chemical conduits to the divine. "In the Darwinian sense,” he says, the evolutionary purpose of psychedelic experiences may be an increase in cognitive variety and the stimulation of “more metaphors, more insights.” In his Fresh Air interview above, Pollan further explains how this works therapeutically. “One of the things our mind does is tell stories about ourselves,” he says. “If you’re depressed, you’re being told a story perhaps that you’re worthless, that no one could possibly love you... that life will not get better.”

“These stories,” Pollan says, “trap us in these ruminative loops that are very hard to get out of. They’re very destructive patterns of thought.” Psychedelic drugs “disable for a period of time the part of the brain where the self talks to itself. It's called the default mode network, and it's a group of structures that connect parts of the cortex — the evolutionarily most recent part of the brain — to deeper levels where emotion and memory reside.” Disrupting old narratives helps people to write better, healthier stories.

As Pollan says in the Time video above, psychedelics have been popularly conceived as drugs that make you crazy—and in some cases, that happens. But they are also “drugs that can make you sane, or more sane.”  One of the major differences between one outcome and the other is the conditions under which the drug is taken. When quality and dosage of the drugs are controlled, and when subjects are prepared for “bad trips” with specific instructions, even frightening hallucinations can contribute to better mental health.

In his psilocybin experiment, for example, Pollan was accompanied by two “guides” and given “a set of ‘flight instructions,” including what to do if you see a monster.

…don't try to run away. Walk right up to it, plant your feet and say, "What do you have to teach me? What are you doing in my mind?" And if you do that, according to the flight instructions, your fear will morph into something much more positive very quickly.

In another example, another psylocybin subject, Alana, describes in the Vox video below her guided experience with the drug during a smoking cessation trial at Johns Hopkins. “There were scary parts, foreboding parts,” she says, but thanks to controlled conditions and the reassuring presence of a guide, “I always knew there was joy and peace on the other side of it. It was freeing.”

Using psychedelics to confront and conquer fears goes back many thousands of years in traditional societies. Modern technological culture has largely turned to antidepressants and other pharmaceuticals to regulate anxiety, but as Pollan points out, “Prozac doesn’t help when you’re confronting mortality,” the deepest, most universal fear of all. But psychedelics—as Aldous Huxley found when he took LSD on his deathbed—can “occasion an experience in people—a mystical experience—that somehow makes it easier to let go.” Surely, there are other ways to do so. In any case, psychedelic drugs seem so beneficial to psychological well-being that they can be, and hopefully will be in the future, used to positively (responsibly) shift the consciousness and creative potential of millions of suffering people.

For more on this subject, read Pollan's latest book--How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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