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Archive for 'Non-Fiction Five Challenge'

A Year in Japan (Non-Fiction Five Challenge)

September 30, 2007

[For this reading challenge I picked non-fiction titles that are outside the usual scope of my reading and of this website.]
A Year in Japan
A Year in Japan by Kate Williamson is the last book for the “Non-Fiction Five Challenge.” nff109×108.jpg This is a beautifully drawn travel journal by an artist who spent a year living in Kyoto. I did not feel like I got much of a deeper acquaintance with Japanese culture, but the book was filled with the kind of observations that strike a foreigner traveling in a new land. The reader who has never traveled to Japan can get a sense of experiencing an unfamiliar culture through the author’s drawings and brief written descriptions. Not much about Japanese popular culture here, but there are notes about the food, festivals, street scenes and sights of Kyoto.

Amazon has “Search Inside the Book” for this title, and the Google Book page also has some preview pages, plus reviews and web page references.

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‘River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West’ by Rebecca Solnit (Non-Fiction Five Challenge)

August 29, 2007

[For this reading challenge I picked non-fiction titles that are outside the usual scope of my reading and of this website.]nff109×108.jpg

River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West by Rebecca Solnit
I enjoyed reading this book quite a lot, in part because many of the events take place in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and other Bay Area locations that I’m familiar with. It’s also a well written account, winner of the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. The book relates the story of Muybridge’s famous motion studies, mostly concentrating on the photographer’s career leading up to and following the innovations that enabled him to capture the details of a trotting horse’s gait. His development of high-speed photographic techniques settled a debate by showing that all four hooves were off the ground at once. The Wikipedia entry for Muybridge cites this book as its source and so gives a fairly good summary of its contents, plus a nice collection of related links.

Solnit also focuses on the changes in the experience of time and space brought about by technological developments of the period such as the railroad and photography. The genealogy from Muybridge’s motion studies to Hollywood and Silicon Valley is just touched on in the last few pages of the book.

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‘The Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City’ by John Tallmadge (Non-Fiction Five)

July 31, 2007


nff109×108.jpgI’m just squeaking in under the wire for my July selection in the Non-Fiction Five Challenge – The Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City. [For this reading challenge I picked non-fiction titles that are outside the usual scope of my reading and of this website.]

This book turned out to be not so much a natural history of Cincinnati, but more of a meditation on overcoming the apparent dichotomy between wilderness and city. The author had identified himself as a wilderness lover, so at first he sees his move to the city as a kind of exile. (The first chapter is titled “The Road of Exile.”) Eventually he comes to see the natural world as a continuum that includes the city, and he arrives at a ‘practice of the wild’ (Gary Snyder’s term) that can embrace all aspects of experience.

Here is a ‘mind-related’ excerpt:

…the house feels like a spacesuit, a diver’s mask, or a suit of armor, a fabricated refuge that keeps my body comfortable so that my mind can work on matters of its choosing. Without the house, the body’s needs would always be clamoring for attention: “Feed me!” “Keep me warm!” But with those needs taken care of by the house, the mind can go its own way, attentive to ideas and dreams. So the house represents a kind of refuge or escape from nature, which is construed as whatever exists outside the organism and, ipso facto, forces it to pay attention. The house allows the mind to pay attention to itself. (p. 56, emphasis mine)

On the practice of the wild:

Wild practice is first and foremost a local practice. You always have to do it right here. Wild practice has an aspect of attentiveness: learning the other creatures and their ways, keeping watch, waiting for things to emerge, learning to see the unseen. There is also an aspect of mindfulness, of repeated acts deliberately composed, of discipline projected over the long term. There is an aspect of relation: dancing with the wildness of others, participating in local flows of energy, nourishment, and information, all of which comprise what I call husbandry. There is an aspect of homage to one’s origins in landscapes of learning or transformation – call it pilgrimage – and an aspect of reflection and witness that preserves the land’s gifts by sharing them through stories. Five disciplines, in sum, are necessary: attentiveness, mindfulness, husbandry, pilgrimage, and witness. (p. 123)

He then goes on to talk about applying this practice at different levels of relationship – personal, community, and ecological.

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‘From Counterculture to Cyberculture’ by Fred Turner (Non-Fiction Five)

June 23, 2007

11wox1eyykl_aa_sl160_.jpgFrom Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Stanford professor Fred Turner traces the influence of Stewart Brand from the Whole Earth Catalog to the WELL (“Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link”) to Wired Magazine.This is a compelling, if somewhat dryly academic, intellectual history of forces that have helped to create the network culture of today.

Brand seems to have played the role of Connector as described by Malcolm Gladwell in ‘The Tipping Point,’ creating networks connecting different intellectual communities, and ultimately bridging between the countercultural “New Communalists” and the later “digerati.” Norbert Wiener’s cybernetics was an early influence on Brand that, according to the book, provided a common language that enabled different disciplines to communicate and collaborate, beginning in the post-WWII research environment.

2143yntzagl_aa_sl160_.jpgThe New Communalist branch of the counterculture turned away from the political activism of the New Left, seeking social change instead through technology and the transformation of consciousness.

“Even as they decoupled computers from their dark, early 1960s association with bureaucracy, then, Brand and the Whole Earth community turned them into emblems not only of New Communalist social ideals, but of a networked mode of technocratic organization that continues to spread today. In that way, they helped transform both the cultural meanings of information and information technology and the nature of technology itself.” (p 239)


Fred Turner’s home page
Edge.org has a lengthy excerpt (Chapter 2 of the book) with an introduction by John Brockman and some photos supplied by Brand (that aren’t in the book)

Also as I mentioned in an earlier post, a Google video search turns up a series of videos of author Fred Turner discussing the book.

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Currently reading: From Counterculture to Cyberculture

June 16, 2007

11wox1eyykl_aa_sl160_.jpg From Counterculture to Cyberculture by Fred Turner is my June pick for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge. (I’m about a third of the way….)

A google video search turns up a nice series of videos by the author talking about the book.

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