One of the most important American Postwar photographers, Garry Winogrand applied for a Guggenheim grant in 1963, saying his work thus far suggested that America was devoured by "illusions and fantasies," and he wanted to travel and convince himself otherwise. This body of work may not disprove that notion, but it's an invaluable portrait of a country teetering between Camelot and Vietnam. These (mostly unpublished) photos are fascinating as documentary material, but they're more than that. Whether finding something startling in a banal street scene, making a visual pun, or capturing something truly noteworthy (Aquarena Springs' swimming pig, say), Winogrand had a brilliant eye for compositions that were not only graphically exciting, but said something about their subjects. Especially wonderful are the color images here, which occasionally view the already-foreign pallette of the early '60s through tinted windows and colored lights, hinting at the psychedelic haze that was just a couple of years over the horizon. — John DeFore
By Garry Winogrand
$60.00, 300 pages
A few months back, these pages raved about Back in the Days, a book documenting hip-hop street fashion circa 1980 — now the same publisher is releasing the punk equivalent. This little number saves the essays for the end, and forgoes identifying captions; it's like finding a shoebox full of some scenester's 20-year-old snapshots, every image capturing a new kid full of mock menace and nerdy poise. Stars-to-be (yer John Waterses and Iggy Pops) are side-by-side with the folks who paid to see their shows, or at least loitered dangerously outside them. After the group and couple poses of In the Days, it's interesting that these punks always show up alone, a good deal more alienated than their hip-hop counterparts. But the home-grown fashion is every bit as fascinating, and the scene captured with pierced-nostril precision. — John DeFore
WE'RE DESPERATE: THE PUNK ROCK PHOTOGRAPHY OF JIM JOCOY
By Jim Jocoy, Thurston Moore, Exene Cervenka, Marc Jacobs
$29.95, 300 pages
Two phonebook-sized anthologies capture the best and worst tendencies of their authors, film critics so well-known that their writing is, of late, itself generating voluminous debate. The complaints, distilled, are that Thomson makes untrue/unsupportable statements just because they're beautifully evocative, and Lane makes incomplete/ungenerous proclamations just because they make him sound like an Algonquin-ified wit. Trouble is, Lane is an incomparable wit, and Thomson's metaphors do evoke an emotional truth, even if his emotional responses don't align with yours. Both men — Lane with crystalline, always-amazing reviews, Thomson with rambling, treasure-stuffed mini-biographies of film folk — demonstrate superhuman knowledge, and both know exactly what they want to do with that knowledge. Whether the reader nods appreciatively or throws the book against the wall, each volume can provide any serious movie buff with countless hours of thought-provoking entertainment. — John DeFore
By Anthony Lane
$35.00, 528 pages
NEW BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM
By David Thomson
$35.00, 960 pages
Sarah Vowell, who frequently reads her essays on the public-radio omnibus This American Life, sounds like your stereotypical '90s slacker — the whiny monotone, the alienation, the Breakfast Club and Sleater-Kinney references. But she's always had a meatier side as well. Vowell is a patriot: She loves America not only in the abstract but in its contrary particulars. Her third collection, The Partly Cloudy Patriot (an awkward twist on Thomas Paine's concept of the "sunshine patriot"), finds the self-described "civics nerd" expounding with wit and clarity on the sacred act of voting, why Americans hate brainy politicians, and what it means to love your country when the world is on fire.
Patriotism, in Vowell's estimation, is all about tough love, and is not necessarily the sort of thing that makes one a poster girl for the Homeland. "My ideal picture of citizenship will always be an argument, not a sing-along," she writes, and she's willing to become a royal pain in the ass in the name of the Founding Fathers, albeit a blessedly self-effacing one. In the title essay, she recalls how she once called up the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post and ordered them to remove Old Glory from her lawn after they placed it there, unsolicited, to commemorate Independence Day. "The whole point of that goddamn flag is that people don't stick flags on my lawn without asking me!" she told the VFW. "A few minutes later, an elderly gentleman in a VFW cap, who probably lost his best friend liberating France or something, pulled up in a big car, grabbed the flag, and rolled his eyes."
In Vowell's work, low culture and American history shake hands and say howdy. She can make connections between the Trail of Tears, the Gettysburg Address, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Revenge of the Nerds III — in fact, the latter reference kicks off what might be the collection's best essay, "The Nerd Voice," an insightful look at the cultural meaning of Election 2000. She also knows how to craft a mighty fine one-liner (i.e., "The nice thing about Philadelphia is that no one has moved there to find the good life for over 200 years"). But zingers are cheap and, when employed on easy targets, they signal a creeping laziness. There's a little too much padding this time out: essays on Thanksgiving with her folks, her obsession with an arcade game, and so on. Still, the best parts of The Partly Cloudy Patriot indicate that Vowell is ready, if not yet willing, to move permanently to the grown-up table. — Heather Joslyn
THE PARTLY CLOUDY PATRIOT
By Sarah Vowell
Simon & Schuster
$22.00, 197 pages
THE INVENTOR RE-INVENTED
It's Casablanca meets Raymond Chandler; Depression-era history meets fiction. From Franklin Flyer's yellow fedora to his brushes with assorted notables of the 1930s and '40s, the title character in Nicholas Christopher's latest novel moves easily from the mundane lifestyle of an average businessman to the intriguing world of espionage.
Named for the train on which he was born, Flyer was raised by his suffragette aunt and grew up to hold jobs ranging from inventor to merchant seaman to pulp-magazine publisher. The one career move he can't shake involves a South American exploration for zilium, a miracle metal coveted by Americans, Nazis, and Argentinians. The search for zilium is the one constant in Flyer's life; he begins as an interpreter on a zilium exploration and eventually is recruited by U.S. Intelligence to break up a zilium ring.
There are other journeys Flyer takes as well: his romances with a blues singer, a secretary at his magazine and a socialist patriot; his pursuit of inventions that will impact American society; the mysteries of ancient Egypt. Sprinkled throughout the book are Flyer's encounters with famous characters of the time: Josephine Baker, Rita Hayworth, Franklin Roosevelt, and Office of Secret Service founder Bill Donovan. Christopher does a good job of naturally weaving these encounters into Flyer's story.
Flyer the inventor — introduced at the novel's outset — becomes a man who is constantly re-inventing himself, moving seamlessly from career to career, brushing elbows with both stereotypical American citizens of the day as well as celebrities. Like a Depression-era 007, Flyer doesn't lack for adventures or intriguing female companionship, but unlike Bond, he's just a regular joe trying to build a successful life.
Franklin Flyer will hold appeal for readers interested in a variety of subjects, from espionage to history to personal transformation. Christopher truly entertains in this thoughtful telling of historical events through the magical life of a fictional character. — Lauren Mulverhill
By Nicholas Christopher
$24.95, 320 pages
Goldberry Long's debut novel, Juniper Tree Burning, effortlessly flips a coin through its pages. On one side, Jennie Braverman, an independent, intelligent woman who marries a successful med student — on the other, Juniper Tree Burning (Jennie's given name), the daughter of post hippie-era parents who lives a subsistence-style existence, and is more like a mother than a sister to her younger brother. Long moves easily between Jennie's past and present and the raw emotions that salt the two sides of her life. At odds are love and rage, parenting and protection.
Juniper's childhood includes physical and verbal abuse, but is mainly one where she is left to her own devices. Her family members are mere physical occupants of an adobe house with a crack down the middle. Here Long takes an opportunity to explore what the legacy of the 1960s counter-culture may truly be.
Jennie attempts several escapes in the novel, hoping these will lead her to some type of normalcy. Scholarships to a boarding school and medical school set her plan in motion, but her full commitment to her husband is almost more than she is capable of tackling. The independence forced on Juniper the child is an attribute Jennifer the adult can't shake. Once she meets and marries a man who truly cares about her, she feels imprisoned and compelled to recapture that independence at any price. Her brother's suicide provides a convenient excuse to escape her marriage.
As Long moves alternately through the life events of the child Juniper and the adult Jennie, it's easy to see how the pain of these two lives will eventually converge. Jennie is on the brink of having the love and security her childhood lacked when her brother's suicide causes her to examine her past and return to the lifestyle with which she's comfortable. — Lauren Mulverhill
JUNIPER TREE BURNING
By Goldberry Long
Scribner Paperback Fiction
$14.00, 459 pages