Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Non-Moronic Relationship with God: Kaya Oakes’s ‘Radical Reinvention’

As Kitchen Sink Magazine cofounder, Kaya Oakes makes clear in the prologue to her memoir cum theological summa, Radical Reinvention: An Unlikely Return to the Catholic Church (Counterpoint, 256 pages), “this is not a story of being born again; if I wanted to be an evangelical I could just hop into a church and they’d dip me in a tub and serve me cake.” With this characteristic blend of spiritual sincerity and irreverent wit, Oakes, who is the author of the critically acclaimed book Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture (2009), retraces her steps back into her childhood …Continue reading

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An Ever-Evolving Chameleon: Cindy Sherman Retrospective at SFMOMA

The long-standing queen of conceptual portraiture, Cindy Sherman is the art world’s daring chameleon and its fiercest critic. Known for her bold pieces that often question identity, self-perception and established gender norms, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City has curated an incredibly thorough traveling retrospective of Sherman’s work—more than 150 of her photographs, film projects, as well as a special series of film screenings that have inspired her creatively—that’s on exhibition until October 8 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Portraying herself as everything from a harlot to a housewife, Sherman embodies the narrow gender …Continue reading

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Do Not Linger at the Gate: David Shrigley’s ‘Brain Activity’ at the YBCA

No one can fully appreciate the comedy and the strangeness of David Shrigley’s work without first becoming acquainted with his drawings. As bizarre as they are funny, these drawings are the Shrigley staple, a primer for his sculptures, photography, paintings, and installations. Rather than simply a display of artistic talent (it seems that anyone witty enough with a black Sharpie and a piece of paper could reach a similar end), they reveal his ability to make comic sense of the absurd and the obvious. The British artist’s current exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Brain Activity, starts …Continue reading

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Creatures in the Desert: ‘A Million Heavens’ by John Brandon

Probably the most enjoyable theme through all of John Brandon’s novels is his fascination with people in solitude, because it allows Brandon to linger on often-bizarre penchants and lifestyles. In Arkansas we saw the partnership of Swin Ruiz and Kyle Ribb, two young guys whose utter weirdness in personality lands them in the drug running business. In Citrus County, he focused on the dark longings of his characters, which they ponder on long walks through the forest, or during detention in an undecorated middle-school classroom. In his new novel, A Million Heavens (McSweeney’s; 272 pages), Brandon maintains his interest in …Continue reading

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The Well-Researched Drug Memoir: ‘Opium Fiend’ by Steven Martin

When you think of opium smoking, the sepia-steeped image of an exotic Shangri-La probably comes to mind.. However, opium consumption has long been a worldwide phenomenom, with smokers found among  the upper crust and the impoverished. In his memoir, Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction (Villard; 416 pages), Steven Martin delves deep into the long-lost secret history of a drug that once captured the imaginations of everyone, from the haute couture to Hunter S. Thompson. Martin—a freelance writer living in Southeast Asia whose curiosity about opium smoking eventually led to his becoming an addict to …Continue reading

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A Sexual Greed, Profound and Shallow: Q&A With Chloe Caldwell

There’s a matter-of-factness about Chloe Caldwell’s sexually uninhibited, confessional essays, Legs Get Led Astray (Future Tense Books). “I am the type of person who will give anything to anyone I feel I could love, ” Caldwell writes at one point. Caldwell is young—her work reflects that—but that is not to say the writing is immaterial or inchoate. It’s what I would call a greedy, ugly kind of “young,” the kind that makes you wonder if we are most alive, in a monstrous way, when we’re being hideous and awful. We spoke to her over Facebook about her frank and voracious …Continue reading

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Life as a Flounder, or Lizard: ‘No Animals We Could Name’ by Ted Sanders

Ted Sanders writes the kind of sensitive, careful prose that makes it easy for the reader to forge connections with the most unconventional of characters—whether a flounder or a lizard—and to live for pages as someone (or something) you thought you could never identify with. A collection of fourteen individual narratives, each forming its separate universe, No Animals We Could Name (Graywolf Press; 272 pages) is a beautiful expression of feeling in the form of prose. Putting a surrealist spin on the most realist situations, Sanders’ hyper-observant prose and delicate descriptions are at once gentle and urging, prompting you to …Continue reading

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