It’s almost the middle of summer and the days are getting hotter and shorter. Vacations are beginning in earnest. The brief list below includes some reading possibilities for the beach, the woods, or even a hot and humid apartment in the middle of Manhattan.
Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know—Miquel Tinker Salas. This is not just a reference book; it is an easily accessible history of the country of Venezuela. Formatted into questions and answers, Salas has written a fair-minded text for the reader interested in knowing more about the country’s history and politics or the researcher looking for an up-to-date reference work. Every popular movement, every coup, and every major economic influence important to the nation of Venezuela is discussed here. The political perspective is representative of the popular will in Venezuela, with equal treatment provided to the various opposition forces in it society throughout history. In light of current realities, the author’s emphasis is on the role the oil industry has played in the economics and politics of Venezuela.
Armageddon Rag—George RR Martin. I have never watched an episode of Game of Thrones, nor read any of the books. However, this novel from Martin piqued my interest. I discovered it while researching my latest book and finally read it last month. When a retired rock promoter is grotesquely murdered in his Maine home, the novel’s protagonist (a journalist and novelist) goes on a search for his killer. His pursuit leads him to a bizarre plot to stage an Armageddon-like battle between good and evil by reuniting a revolutionary rock band and its dead lead singer. More importantly, this search is for the meaning of the 1960s and a query into why they ended the way they did. Martin’s writing keeps one turning the pages and, if one cares too, joining in on his fuzzily psychedelic ruminations over the lost potential that decade held.
Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century—Steven Conn. Having lived most of my life now in small cities, but still having an affinity for the bigger ones, I found this treatise by Conn to be an interesting cultural exploration of the love-hate relationship US residents have with their large urban areas. Traditionally the entry points for many immigrants and the gathering place for arts and money, the social fabric of the city is a complex and occasionally divisive one. Likewise, as Conn makes clear, is the fear many denizens of the United States have of cities. It is a fear played out all too often in the l battleground of domestic politics and representative of several different elements of US culture–from religion to work and from debates over big government to decisions about transportation funding. This text focuses primarily on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries but provides a comprehensive history of the decades preceding 1900.
Nazis in the Metro—Didier Daeninckx. This 1997 novel was recently translated from the French. Like all good noir, its characters reside on the fringes of society, respectable and otherwise. An aging, not-very-popular-anymore novelist is attacked, that’s how the story begins. A fan and acquaintance who also freelances as a private investigator starts looking into the assault, unwilling to accept the police’s story. He uncovers neo-nazis and their opposite in the squats and streets of Paris. Gritty and fast-paced, this novel is like a good bebop jazz album, where the spaces that aren’t filled with sound are as important as the spaces that are.
The Last of the Hippies—Penny Rimbaud. Rimbaud helped found the British punk band CRASS. This book is a re-published tribute to Phil Russell (aka Wally Hope), who was a key inspiration for the Free Festival movement of 1970s Britain, a look at the anarchist movement of that time and a revolutionary call to battle. Hope was arrested on his way to the second free festival at Stonehenge and “found to be in possession” of three hits of LSD. He was committed to a mental institution, subjected to pharmaceutical “remedies,” and eventually killed himself. The book represents the counterculture beginnings of what would inform the anarchist/autonomen movement throughout the West from the 1980s on. Rimbaud and the publisher PM Press have included a new introduction for this edition. That introduction is quite a contrast to the naive and utopian hopes of the original text, which was published at the very beginning of the Thatcher/Reagan years. Alternately hopeful and depressing, this is an enlightening read.
Boo—Neil Smith. One of those modern novels that occupy a space between Young Adult fiction and Adult fiction, this well-written tale takes place in a heaven populated only by thirteen year olds and overseen by a god named Zig. This heaven is built somewhat along the lines of a public housing project with names of fictional characters such as Phoebe Caulfield and Sal Paradise given to the buildings. Simultaneously a novel about friendship and depression, youth and growing old, it is a coming-of-age story with a unique and unnerving twist.
Boston ‘78–Easy Skanking—Bob Marley and the Wailers. This recently released recording of the 1978 Boston Music Hall Bob Marley concert is not only an almost perfect reproduction of the Wailers’ sound, it also captures the excitement and energy present in every one of Marley’s performances. Fire one up (or not) and play it loud. Irie.
Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: email@example.com.