Bohemian Rhapsody: ‘Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan’ by William Hjortsberg

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To simplify, Jubilee Hitchhiker: The Life and Times of Richard Brautigan (Counterpoint; 880 pages), William Hjortsberg’s massive new biography of the late, once-iconic poet and novelist, can be roughly divided into three parts: BUMMER. Brautigan’s childhood years, growing up poor and alienated in a dysfunctional family in the eternally drizzly Pacific Northwest. Highlights included the poet’s hospitalization—and treatment with electric shock—after throwing a rock into the local police station after a girl he had a crush on rejected him. TRIPPY. Brautigan’s arrival in San Francisco, well ahead of the Summer of Love, whose spirit he briefly seemed to embody, and […]

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Tucson’s Tragic Dispostion: ‘A Safeway in Arizona’ by Tom Zoellner

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At the beginning of his new book, A Safeway in Arizona: What the Gabrielle Giffords Shooting Tells Us About the Grand Canyon State and Life in America (Viking; 276 pages), Tom Zoellner provides a disclaimer: he admits to harboring “several personal biases” with respect to the book’s subject matter.  We learn, however, that these biases are completely appropriate.  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a survivor of the shooting at the Tucson Safeway on January 8, 2011, is an extremely close friend of Zoellner, who counts her within the “maybe twenty people” he has loved in his life.  The emotion that Zoellner brings […]

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Ghosts in the Archive: Five Notes on the Asian Art Museum’s ‘Phantoms’

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I. The first thing I see when I enter the Asian Art Museum on opening night of “Phantoms of Asia”—before the scrolls, the photographs, the paintings, and the artifacts—is a sculpture of an upside-down “A” crawling with graffiti. Who’s the artist? I ask a staff member. Everyone, I’m told. The freestanding letter serves as a meeting point for the museums’ thousands of guests, each of whom can add to the piece. Some sign their names, others draw hearts. Dates and initials on white. From a distance, nothing’s legible; all that comes through is the letter itself. BE A CITIZEN OF […]

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An Island Shaken By Memories: ‘Subduction’ by Todd Shimoda

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In Todd Shimoda’s most recent novel, Subduction (Chin Music Press; 304 pages), the book’s visual design is as crucial to the narrative’s enjoyment as is the prose Endo, a doctor exiled to the island of Marui-jima for committing a fatal mistake, occupies himself by becoming concerned with the island’s elderly residents. Curious about the years before his arrival, and the choices the islanders have often come to regret, he befriends Mari, the island’s documentary filmmaker, and grills her about the islanders’ stories, as well as her own. But when she presses Endo to share personal details of his own life, […]

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An Unknown Future: ‘Stand Your Ground, The Sun Is Rising’ at Old Crow

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“This is actually the first time that my parents have seen these photos. I didn’t want them to fear for what I was doing.” – Shadi Rahimi In May 2011, freelance photographer and journalist Shadi Rahimi spent two weeks in Cairo. There, through a series of short videos titled Voices of Egypt, the young Iranian-American chronicled the range of Egyptian perspectives surrounding the ongoing uprising. She left the country so creatively and emotionally transfixed that within days of returning home to Oakland she quit her job and worried her family by buying a one-way ticket back into the tumult-ridden capital. […]

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The Brazilian Bird of Prey: Four New Translations of Clarice Lispector

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In his preface to Clarice Lispector’s A Breath of Life (Pulsations), editor Benjamin Moser calls the four new translations from New Directions of Lispector’s novels—including Água Viva, Near to the Wild Heart, and The Passion According to G.H.—“the most important project of translation into English of a Latin American author since the complete works of Jorge Luis Borges were published a decade ago.” This is hardly a disinterested opinion: Moser himself kicked off the retranslations of Lispector’s work with The Hour of the Star (New Directions), published late last year. He also published a biography of Lispector in 2009, Why […]

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