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Without Compass

Benjamin Miller. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (60p) ISBN 978-1-935536-38-3

Through delicately woven motifs, the poems in Miller's debut collection echo and build off one another cohering in central themes of navigation and orientation (and its inverse, disorientation). Despite being mostly non-sequential, Miller's seven "Desert" poems each close with the line that opens the next poem in the series, a circling that builds a loose narrative momentum between the poems. Similarly, images layer in complexity and dynamic potential; wings, instruments of movement, recur in different contexts: "Like falling kites, the night came in a rush/ To settle just outside the window, garnet eyes/ Outlined by swaying trees. Pewter-slow,/ My throat contracted. Hidden wings unfurled." Later, Miller writes, "Again the sudden slick of fear/ across the shoulder blades, the ozone scrape/ of tooth on tooth, of knowledge on fast wings." The migratory metaphors stand out as well, particularly in relation to longing and desire: "Westward they'd say/ Send your people westward... Were we always this distant// Some days I wake/ And find you haven't followed." By the same token, the speaker makes clear that "it is not with me as it is with bridges." Miller deftly handles his poems' spiritual dimensions to amplify attentiveness to physical and metaphysical journeying, as "who/ can search for what is obvious?" (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Etruria

Rodney Koeneke. Wave (Consortium, dist.), $18 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-933517-82-7

Koeneke (Musee Mechanique) explores an eclectic range of subjects in his third collection, with Dante, puppies, and Slavoj Zizek making appearances as he undertakes exciting lyrical meditations with unexpected turns. The opening poem, "Toward a Theory of Translation," begins with a consideration of literary giants—"Everyone knows that O'Hara is great, but who loses much sleep over Pasternak?"—and closes with a poignant punctuation of the poem's academic reflections, "saying that if love is a state for which no language is ever adequate,/ yet we keep falling in love and writing about it anyway, then each of us,/ in our private feelings, resembles a poem waiting for its translator." Koeneke easily shifts from the conversational ("Look what I brought you/ these ampules of feeling") to the reflective ("The thinking of the loving/ is the loving/ the ankle sings most sweetly/ in its sock"), while his poem "La Chevy Nova" beautifully contemplates a scene in Dante's Purgatorio in its movement from the scholarly to the personal: "But I gaze at you and I burn/ with a new vernacular; I see you and I see vermillion." The naturalness of Koeneke's essayistic explorations and his adept weaving of disparate sources make this an engaging, thoughtful, and consistently surprising collection. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unlearning With Hannah Arendt

Marie Luise Knott, trans. from the German by David Dollenmayer. Other, $22.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-59051-647-8

German political theorist Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) took the philosophical line of questioning to the extreme when she advised that we not just question, but unlearn what we know. Journalist and translator Knott focuses on four concepts Arendt extensively unlearned—laughter, translation, forgiveness, and dramatization—drawing on her books, essays, and conversations and correspondence with other thinkers of the time. Through unlearning with Arendt, laughter transforms from a reaction to a comical situation to a way of identifying absurdity, evil, or serious matters. Forgiveness becomes a necessary path to the future instead of a mere forgetting of the past. Language proves to be limiting, especially when rebuilding politics or law with imprecise terminology. But Arendt's bilingual life, alternating between English and German, identifies the strengths and weaknesses of each. Intent on showing Arendt's words to be re-readable and re-learnable, Knott does the same with her own overview of Arendt's reeducation. (May)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Next Crash: How Short-Term Profit Seeking Trumps Airline Safety

Amy L. Fraher. Cornell Univ., $27.95 (230p) ISBN 978-0-8014-5285-7

This troubling critique of the U.S. airline industry deserves a close look. Fraher, a former commercial pilot and U.S. Naval Aviator, presents a seasoned analysis of today's eroding safety standards and their implications for future airline disasters. Though Fraher, now an organizational consultant, writes in the language of business school case studies and training manuals, her well-supported argument is indisputable: the post–9/11 state of the industry is perilous. According to Fraher, one reason for industry disarray is the "apparent rarity of aviation deaths" that has left airlines complacent and regulators lackadaisical as the industry drifts toward systemic safety failures. Fraher cites the 1978 deregulation of airlines as a turning point: "a horrible mistake" that fundamentally altered their status from being "public utilities" to opaque corporations that reward CEOs with huge pay packages while demonizing and demoralizing pilots as the source of high labor costs. Though Fraher's argument is not entirely unique, one hopes that her book will have an effect on the corporate practices that are sending the industry toward self-inflicted disaster. (May)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Photography Today

Mark Durden. Phaidon, $75 (464p) ISBN 978-0-7148-4563-0

In this utterly absorbing volume, Durden (Dorothea Lange) examines the impact of over 100 photographers who have risen to prominence since the 1960s. Artfully divided into 11 chapters—covering topics including the rise of copying and appropriation, faces and masks, color photography, street photography, landscapes, atrocities, the body, documentary, and the self—each chapter provides insight into how these photographers fit into a larger whole. The final chapter, "Photography Tomorrow," deals with the death of film and the mass proliferation of digital representation, a phenomenon beautifully represented in Kessels's "24 Hrs in Photos," in which the photographer filled a gallery with 350,000 photos uploaded to Flickr in a 24-hour period. All major artists and movements are represented, from Arbus and Winogrand, to Mann, Struth, Calle, and Gursky (along with many lesser-known photographers), though the omission of Alec Soth and John Gossage in such a comprehensive book is surprising. Durden's considerable research can be seen in the biographies and the book's index. With precise and accessible prose, and stunning design, this volume masterfully surveys the last half-century of this art form. 350 color, 150 b&w illus. (May)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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American Jukebox: A Photographic Journey

Christopher Felver. Indiana Univ., $50 (260p) ISBN 978-0-253-01402-3

Immersed in the cultural landscape, filmmaker and photographer Felver (Beat) compiles moments both candid and posed from the past 25 years of American musical history. Framed by a brief personal narrative of the artist's social life in diverse countercultural milieus, as well as forewords by David Amram and Lee Ranaldo, the book quickly proceeds to striking images of luminaries such as Emmylou Harris, Ozzy Osbourne, Odetta, Taj Mahal, and Eartha Kitt. Felver possesses a unique skill, presenting the artists in moments that suggest a personal connection and unveiling of celebrity, while maintaining a firm grounding in the act of musical creation. Occasional recollections and ephemera from the featured artists further bolster the collection. Sure to please music aficionados and casual fans alike, the range and intimacy of this collection work together, drawing out nostalgia for the recent past. The artists feel present, whether it's Sonny Rollins with cheeks puffed as he glances over his shoulder, or Hazel Dickens's genuine smile. Felver's sincere appreciation of that presence is enough to make you turn on a record player. 240 b&w illus. (May)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer

Rowan Williams. Eerdmans, $10 (96p) ISBN 978-0-8028-7197-8

In this accessible and thought-provoking book, Williams (Faith in the Public Square), the former Archbishop of Canterbury, explores four essential elements of Christian life. In a conversational tone and with good-natured humor, he elucidates key points; for example, with baptism, one joins a Christian community: "Bad news for many, because other Christians can be so difficult!" Discussing the Bible, Williams provides a concise overview of the book's makeup before addressing challenges of interpreting " ‘the word of the Lord,' the communication of God." He tackles difficult questions (such as "Does God approve of genocide?") and suggests ways to engage scripture: "ask where you are in the story." In the Eucharist, all Christians are guests, "people whose company God wants"; paradoxically, Jesus draws out hospitality in others, asking followers, as he asked Zacchaeus, the tax collector: "Aren't you going to ask me to your home?" Williams explores prayer through the writing of Origen, Gregory, and Cassian, three early Christians, reflecting on the Lord's Prayer. Each of the four chapters closes with thoughtful questions, making this an excellent spiritual guide for individual or small group use. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Wherever the River Runs: How a Forgotten People Renewed My Hope in the Gospel

Kelly Minter. David C. Cook, $14.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4347-0735-2

Author, Bible teacher, and musician Minter (The Fitting Room) was at a crossroads when she was invited on a trip to the Amazon. Her music career hadn't gone as she had planned. As she comes to know the Amazon and its people and watches them cope with the tragedy and unpredictability of their world, Minter begins to feel the struggles of the river people cutting new channels through her spirit. In between trips, she begins to realize her own smallness in the grand scheme of God's plans, re-evaluates opportunities to help her neighbors, and slowly comes to grips with her own need for approval. She writes with candor about the stories of the pastors and villagers she meets, as well as the weight of loss that enveloped members of their team over the course of a painful year. Though Minter can seem self-absorbed at times, particularly early on, her ability to be honest about her struggles to relate what she was learning in the Amazon to her need for significance proves winsome. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands

Lysa TerKeurst. Thomas Nelson, $15.99 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-4002-0585-1

Bestselling author and popular blogger TerKeurst (Made to Crave) tackles a topic that's top of mind for practically every woman: making wise decisions. Regardless of whether a woman spends most of her day in a cubicle or a minivan or both, the list of people and projects vying for her time is endless. TerKeurst's gentle approach reads like a friend commiserating and counseling over lattés. She says that overwhelmed schedules lead to "underwhelmed souls," and then describes the path to developing the discernment to make good choices. She acknowledges that some things about learning to decide wisely are difficult, such as letting go of self-imposed obligations—using what TerKeurst calls a "small no" to provide a "Best Yes" to opportunities that require attention and honor God. The only way to recognize those wise opportunities is to stay in "unbroken companionship" with God, the author says. TerKeurst's often self-deprecating humor and ability to be vulnerable, combined with insightful Bible references, make this a book women can relate to in a hundred little ways each day. Agency: Fedd & Company. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Masculindians: Conversations About Indigenous Manhood Name

Sam McKegney. Univ. of Manitoba (Michigan State Univ., U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $29.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-88755-762-0

Finding out the meaning of modern indigenous manhood is the goal of this intriguing—if occasionally dense—study by McKegney, professor of English at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. In order to highlight "the constructedness of popular cultural representations of indigenous men," a concept he calls "masculindians," McKegney interviews numerous indigenous subjects who offer empowering visions of masculinity that simultaneously recognize, and move beyond, colonialism's legacy. McKegney argues that defining manhood is an arbitrary process informed by the complex interworking of history, race, and culture. This is especially true for indigenous men, who historically have been defined through the lens of white colonizers as either the "noble savage" or the "bloodthirsty warrior." McKegney interviews male and female educators, artists (including writers such Joseph Boyden, Lee Maracle and Tomson Highway), scholars, social workers, elders, and others who attest to the myriad conceptions of indigenous manhood that range from the affirmingly spiritual to the purposefully vulnerable. The author's preference for opaque academic writing (phrases such as "power-laden interpenetrating discourses") and many intertextual references make this a book primarily for academic specialists. But general readers willing to endure the specialized prose will find many a fascinating discussion about modern indigenous identities. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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