book review: what i learned in a thousand towns (dar williams)

Right, so. I have a blog.

I also have a therapist. She’s new. I’ll call her LS, because that’s her name. It has been a rough mental health year for me because besides, you know, a fucking disgusting racist xenophobic sexual assuaulter being elected President, both my longtime prescriber and therapist BOTH retired. The last time I saw my prescriber was November 8, 2016. We talked about how it had been a rough year but starting on the 9th, things would ease up a little. HOW LITTLE WE FUCKING KNEW, AM I RIGHT. And then on top of that I started planning a wedding.

Anyway, I had to find a new prescriber – found one, she retired five months in, found another, she rocks – and I thought I was doing okay without a therapist except then I wasn’t. I tried a new one, a older dude who wanted to dig through my history – been there, did five years of CBT, have the coping mechanisms, I don’t want to talk about my relationship with my mom or my mother-in-law – and then I found LS, who is about my age, and understood immediately when I walked in to her office and said, “I want to talk about how the President is horrible, the world is on fire, and also I’m planning a wedding.”

She said, “Alright.”

LS is amazing.

The last time I saw her, I talked a lot about how while my job, just by nature of literally what my job is, makes me feel like I’m part of the Resistance Capital R Resistance, I wanted to do more. She asked me what my passions were. Photography. Theater. I used to write a ton of fan fiction. Plants. I like high schoolers because I was a weird high schooler and real adults were nice to me and listened to me and I could be that for some teenager now.

“Okay, your homework is to figure out how to turn that into volunteer work.”

So it’s been on my mind, and then Trav got me Dar Williams’ book for Christmas. What I Found In A Thousand Towns. On its face, it is basically about how to create a thriving large town or small city. But as I tore through during the early NBA games on Christmas Day, it was exactly the book I needed at exactly this time.

It’s about how cities and towns, the kind that Trump maybe won in 2016, the kind who have collapsed because the industry that they thrived on collapsed, can save themselves in the wake of that collapse. It’s about art. It’s about food. It’s about the harm of gentrification and why low cost swimming lessons matter and how to make affordable housing happen and the best ways to eliminate town-gown relations and just have Town Relations. There’s a whole chapter about Carrboro.

Carrboro is pretty expensive and named for a noted racist, my vague ancestor Julian Shakespeare Carr (he’s a fifth cousin somewhere back through marriage, I think). I wish it wasn’t named for a noted racist. But it loves community. And art, and music, and food, and beer, and people. People who live in Carrboro are invested in Carrboro. I knew that, sort of, in the back of my head. I know how many people I know and like that I see when I occasionally venture out to a concert, or even just out for a burrito. When I was house-hunting in Chapel Hill, it was in Chapel Hill, because I didn’t want to be too far from what felt like my community. I hadn’t realized I was so attached to Carrboro and Chapel Hill until I realized that the thought of buying a house in Durham was abhorrent to me (and not just because of Duke basketball, all you smart asses out there). Dar talks a lot about proximity, and how proximity is important to community, and I could verify that with my own experience: I can walk to downtown Chapel Hill and downtown Carrboro, if I wanted to. It is and was important to me to be that close to places.

2017 has been a gross dumpster fire of a hellscape year, but it’s been a gross dumpster fire of a hellscape year that really motivated people to get involved, in their communities, in other communities, to engage with the world. What I Found In A Thousand Towns is technically probably a book about urban planning rather than a memoir, which is what I thought it might be. I think it’s a surprisingly low key important book for the United States right now. Coal isn’t coming back. The uranium industry in Moab, Utah wasn’t coming back, either, and the town has found a way to thrive despite that. (The Most Scenic Dump story had me crying laughing.) Those things aren’t coming back, despite lies from the President about how he’d bring those jobs back, but there are other ways to save towns.

There aren’t solutions to the many sprawling and very serious problems of gentrification, which is often what “rejuvenating” a town or city comes down to; and the book can be a little white-person-focused at times, which is what it is. It isn’t a perfect book, but it was a book that made me think about things I hadn’t been thinking about before, and it was a book that crystalized some ideas I’d been wrestling with in their amorphous blob forms. It pointed out things I can do, and it pointed out where the most helpful thing I can do is to ask other people what they need. It made me ask a lot of questions about the place I live, even though Dar holds up Carrboro as a model of a pretty good small town. We are. Chapel Hill is. But we can do better, too, we can do a lot better, and I read this book, and I’m going to do better.

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book review: on bowie – rob sheffield

hilary & stephen's wedding

The thing about Rob Sheffield’s writing is that he always conveys music as both deeply personal – this is how I feel about this song – and deeply human – this is why this makes us feel the way it does – and that seems to be the reason only he could write the book, the story, that I wanted to read about Bowie.

Because Bowie meant something to me, but as I think the world directly learned with his death, he also meant so many things to us. And if someone was going to tell us what Bowie meant, a little academic and a little personal and a little glam and a little spacey, I want Rob Sheffield to do it. He taught me how to fall in love and he taught me how to be a grown up in love, and I wanted him and only him to tell me how to be brokenhearted about David Bowie. I know what Bowie meant to me. I wanted to know what Bowie meant to us.

The last time I was writing about a Rob Sheffield book, I was crying over Bright Eyes on the porch of a rented college town apartment. This time I was crying in a TGIFriday’s at the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport, sitting next to the man I mention in the Bright Eyes review, the one I thought had given up on me, who’s now my live-in boyfriend. We own a house. One of these days we’re gonna get hitched. We were on our way home from his cousin’s wedding, a severely delayed flight, and we were drinking Fireball and hard cider and watching a Rangers game and I was yelling a lot about Delta.

On Bowie came in the mail the day before we left for MSP. I had saved Patti Smith’s M Train for the trip out and said, “Oh, good, I’ll read this on the way home.” A four hour delay gets you reading. Near the end of the book and the delay both, I shoved it in front of Trav, and said, “Start here, read to here” – it’s an anecdote that ends with He was wearing fabulous shoes, and you know that Bowie was, wherever he was – and then said, a little defensively, “I’m not crying, you’re crying.” We ordered another drink.

Trav introduced me to Rob Sheffield’s writing; Rob’s writing is one of those common tongues that, well, Rob writes about in his books sometimes, that Trav and I share as a couple. I don’t know that we have a particular Bowie memory, though, beyond that he spent a lot of time in my dorm suite senior year, and that year my roommate Cass and I did watch Moulin Rouge over and over again. Trav and I have Prince memories; “Who doesn’t know that ‘7’ is a jam?” Of course we do – we went to college in Minnesota. We have Guy Clark memories; “Stuff That Works” has gone on just about every mix I’ve ever made him. We have scores of Merle memories, because that’s our taste in music. Of all the icons we’ve lost this year, Bowie might have been the only one we didn’t share a memory for.

Now we have a Bowie memory, too, though, and it’s sniffling together over Rob’s book in an MSP airport bar. I’m not crying over Bowie, you’re crying over Bowie.

We’re crying over Bowie.

Rob Sheffield is staying up all night in January, crying about Bowie, starting this book and not knowing quite yet it would be a book – and his wife got up and said to him, “I know.”

We’re still crying about Bowie. Rob Sheffield wrote us a damn good joyous celebration to read through those tears.

I received an advance copy of On Bowie from Dey Street Books in exchange for a review, but all opinions are mine particularly because publishing houses say fuck way less than I do. On Bowie will be available on June 28, 2016, and you can pre-order it now.

book review: exile in guyville (gina arnold ; 33 1/3 #86)

sarah shook @ the cradle

Two or three years ago, when this title was announced by Bloomsbury, I was excited, because I thought that Gina Arnold might be able to explain Exile In Guyville to me. To tell me what makes women of a particular age — say 32, because I know this record never kicked for my baby sister, who’s 30, up through about, oh, say, 45 or 50 now — what makes them love this album with abandon and devotion, 20 years later, and few of them able to explain it themselves. I can’t explain it. I just know that it marked me when I was in high school, and it’s never let go — I love Exile In Guyville as much now as I did in 1995. And she does, some:

Liz’s concerns were authentic to me and to others like me. Some of what she wrote about was simply general life experience.

Primarily, though, the majority of Arnold’s book is not an emotional reaction to this album; it’s a political one, and she does an excellent, thorough job of taking her reader through the politics of the Wicker Park music scene (the heavily male dominated scene from which Phair emerged) and through the collective reaction of critics to Guyville, calling quite a bit of it out on the carpet over the lack of feminism in the male response to the record — which is in turn some of why Phair made the album to begin with. Exile In Guyville — Arnold’s book, not the record; I’ll just go ahead and refer to the album as Guyville and the book by the full title to try and stem confusion — says a lot of things about music criticism and insular local music communities that probably should have been said when the album came out, and weren’t. It’s a fascinating political read, and it scratches some of my itch to understand why I love this record: because when I was 15, I didn’t know that I was a feminist, but I probably already was.

Arnold doesn’t let the two main groups of men who revolve around Guyville get away with much: the Rolling Stones, whose Exile On Main St is the track by track inspiration for Guyville, and the men in the Wicker Park music scene both get fairly exposed regarding their lack of feminist behavior, and Arnold isn’t wrong in that. It wasn’t, past a certain point, what I wanted to read in the book, but that’s a flaw in wanting a different book than the one Arnold wrote (that’s on me; I wanted more of a memoir, someone else’s story to compare to my own). And Arnold is not wrong when she explains the politics of Wicker Park and notes: “Acceptable roles included being fans or girlfriends of the boys in the bands, in which case their job was to support those bands quite literally — with their day jobs.”

Exile In Guyville is, like I said, a smart and thorough feminist politics book about a time two decades ago when women were just starting to make noise with their music, metaphorically speaking; Arnold nails every aspect of it, down to the chapter on the differences between the revenue streams of male and female musicians. That look, that lens, takes up the heavy majority of the book, but the gem of it is the last quarter: the quarter where Arnold steps from looking at how and where the album was fused and fired, and starts looking at the music itself. Arnold breaks down Exile in Guyville by doing exactly what she’s spent arguing the rest of the book against doing: comparing it, track by track, to Exile on Main Street.

And because she’s argued so hard about why you shouldn’t do that, when she finally does it, it works flawlessly. Frankly, it made me look at both Guyville and Exile in different ways — I put together a playlist where I cut the two records together, pairing up the songs the way that Arnold does as she discusses them, and it’s fascinating, the way that they do, in fact, parallel each other. Whether it was, as Phair has always asserted, a directly track by track conscious choice, or it was an overall idea that played out perfectly by accident, the lines are there — and I wouldn’t have found them if Arnold hadn’t written a book that is, mostly, dedicated to telling you that those aren’t the important parts of Phair’s album, or what she was doing, when and where. Gina Arnold isn’t wrong; Guyville as a record is more important than just a response to the Stones. But by taking the music out in favor of the politics for most of her book, when she gets down to brass tacks on the songs, Arnold’s book goes from interesting to shining.

Gina Arnold’s Exile In Guyville releases in the US on 5/22 and the UK on 7/17.

book review: a whole new ballgame – caryn rose

baseball: seton hall @ unc

Last Saturday I was sitting at Trav’s dining room table, eating scrambled eggs and bacon, and talking about — something. Something that was in all likelihood not related to baseball at all. Definitely not this book. Something that prompted me to say, “Hold on, I need to see who’s on the Astros’ top ten prospects,” turn to my iPad, and then instruct Trav on how George Springer was an anomaly, because he came out of a snowbird school, and Carlos Correa was a true shortstop who they expected to stick there in the majors. He also loves me despite this.

This is how my brain works.

So basically Caryn Rose’s newest novel, A Whole New Ballgame, about a woman who gets her heart broken by a musician and then accidentally takes up baseball as a hobby, is exactly my jam. It’s a smart story about falling in love with baseball, and in the hands of a writer less able to convey the joy of baseball, it would probably fall flat, but in Rose’s, it makes me want to quit my job and drive around watching baseball (even more than usual). It’s full of romantic improbabilities that are upfront about their improbability, which mimics the magic of baseball and that moment when your team just wins. (As a lifelong Orioles fan, I am still trying to remember all those moments.)

Rose’s story is not unfamiliar — boy breaks girl’s heart, girl meet a better boy — but the way she tells it is. The thing that surprised me is that her message isn’t baseball will save your life (or rock and roll will save your life, or anything like that), but rather, the thesis of Rose’s story is that living your life will save your life. Here, baseball is the metaphor for Laurie’s decision to live her life, and move towards her future, instead of betting on the “safe thing” or the “sure thing”. The so-called “bad guys” — ex-boyfriend Kirk, sleazy-charming love interest and musician Ryan — are encased in amber throughout the piece, unable and unwilling to change, destined to be rolled over by tar and their own stagnancy.

So if baseball will save your life isn’t the thesis, how is this a baseball book? Because baseball is so at the heart of it; Rose is by profession a music writer, but she wrote at metsgrrl.com — one of the first professional female baseball bloggers — for many years, and Laurie’s path into baseball fandom is written with a true hand and one that never gets preachy, or too pedantic in explaining baseball to the readers as Laurie learns it. The novel is peppered with Red Sox trivia — Laurie lives in Boston at the start of the book — but as much genuine love for baseball as there is devotion to a single team. Laurie’s path crosses, early on, with Peter and Eric, lifelong friends visiting every MLB park in a single summer, and that’s the story that I won’t spoil for you. But as I said, the improbabilities don’t feel improbable, and the exposition doesn’t feel expository; these characters felt like friends, and several times I wished I was the one sitting in the fourth seat with Laurie, Peter and Eric in Kansas City or, even, the hallowed seats on the Green Monster.

A Whole Other Ballgame isn’t a new classic, and if it was, I’m not the person to determine that. But it is a smart novel about how you move on from losing the things you love, to finding new things you love, and maybe the old things, too. It’s a novel about love, loss, and the fact that no matter what happened last year, pitchers and catchers report in February every year. There’s always next year.

You can find every outlet to buy Caryn Rose’s A Whole New Ballgame here. There’s a release party in Brooklyn at WORD on March 12. The only thing this book was missing is that I never got to find out Peter and Eric’s opinions on my beloved Camden Yards.

(Up top is a photo from a February Carolina baseball game, in 2011. I think I got a sunburn. This year, the Heels are starting in Charleston, SC, instead of the Thrill, because snow. Fuck snow. I was ready for college baseball.)

book review: turn around bright eyes — rob sheffield

raleigh, june

I have a lot of feelings about Rob Sheffield’s new book, Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals Of Love & Karaoke. This is, in part, because Rob Sheffield’s writing about music just gives me feelings, because he says things in the way I want to say them, often, where I end up trying to say them but ultimately comparing a band to metaphorical salad dressing instead. (True story.)

But partly why Rob Sheffield’s writing gives me feelings is because, several years, Someone — let’s call him That Boy — That Boy read Love Is A Mix Tape, and That Boy told me that Rob’s Renee reminded him of me. A particular passage, he said. I’d know it when I read it. I did know it, immediately. It was this section, copied this time out of My Clippings on my Kindle, where I have read Love Is A Mix Tape approximately a dozen times, to go with the even dozen I read it in paperback, too:

Unlike me, Renée was not shy; she was a real people-pleaser. She worried way too much what people thought of her, wore her heart on her sleeve, expected too much from people, and got hurt too easily. She kept other people’s secrets like a champ, but told her own too fast. She expected the world not to cheat her and was always surprised when it did. She was finishing her MFA in fiction, and was always working on stories and novels. She had more ideas than she had time to finish. She loved to get up early in the morning. She loved to talk about wild things she wanted to do in the future. She’d never gone two weeks without a boyfriend since she was fifteen.

When I met That Boy, I was 20 and he was 18, and I was that girl, that Renee-girl who loved living life. Then for a while I wasn’t that girl, because of the guy I was with for many years — who was not That Boy — and then I was her again when I found photography, and then, for the last 15 or 16 months, I haven’t really been her at all. I haven’t really been anyone, but especially not myself. There have been moments, of course, where I recognized who I feel like I am supposed to be; when I was in Minnesota with the Every Everything crew, or when I interviewed Frightened Rabbit, or when I shot the National and then sat at the back of Red Hat Amphitheatre and sobbed my guts out when they played “Slow Show”. you know i dreamed about you for 29 years before i met you

But mostly the last 16 months have been a long, hard, sad, colorless slog through the pit that is clinical, chronic depression, and alcoholism. There have been plenty — eight or nine at least — rock bottoms in those 16 months, where I was so far from that Renee-girl that I could barely speak about it; where I couldn’t even think about it, because it gutted me, but despite that, I still didn’t know how to find my way back to myself. One of them was last December, and I ended up calling That Boy, hammered out of my mind at a show, and sobbing on the phone to him about how lonely I was, and how much I loved him, and how badly I needed him to be here. He talked me through that night, a terrifying black-out night that ended in my least fine moment in the 506 ever (and that includes one where I got so drunk I lost my keys and had to call shep. to come rescue me, something she continues to astound me by doing every time I fall into an alcohol-related pit of awful, which is pretty regularly, lately, and she just deserves all the credit and then some for still loving me).

That Boy has barely spoken to me since. That Boy I’ve loved with all my heart since I was 20 years old, who knows me still better than anyone else, who I treated badly and never could be with when he wanted me to even though I loved him fiercely all the while, and who saw me through that December-terrible night and then, rightly, washed his hands of my shadow-self, 12 years after I fell in love with him.

So it’s been a rough while, and Rob Sheffield gives me feelings, the kind where you sit on your front porch and cry into your own cleavage. If you have cleavage. I do. You know how it is.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about Turn Around Bright Eyes; my feelings for Love Is A Mix Tape go so beyond love that they’re barely something I can verbalize, and while I enjoyed Talking To Girls About Duran Duran, nothing in it pushed my musical buttons the way Sheffield’s writing about Big Star and Pavement pushed my buttons in his first. So I was surprised by how delighted this book made me, its slow start and its metaphors about the stars, until I rolled into the middle chapters about Rod Stewart and the Beatles — artists who, unlike Big Star and Pavement, I do not adore, particularly. I like Faces. I think Rod’s written some good songs. Certain Beatles songs make me happy, but I’m a Rolling Stones girl — gimme Sticky Fingers every time, and no boy has ever convinced me otherwise.

I fucking ate those two chapters up, you guys.

The way he talked about every man becoming Rod, about how your favorite song changes and the people in your life help you to find new things about the songs you’ve always loved — man, that just resonated with me. Or the bands that you fall in love with because someone you love loves them; I own that great Faces box set — the box set that started to change my opinion on Rod from “none” to “yeah, okay” — because Patterson Hood once talked about how he and Jason Isbell were obsessed with it in 2004. And I was obsessed with Jason Isbell in 2008. So then Rod, and a totally different spin on one of my all-time favorite songs, “Reason To Believe”, one I’d somehow never heard him sing before — I know it from the Dillards’ bluegrass version, from when I was a kid. It was a love song for me then, almost to myself, while I was coming out of another kind of haze of being Not-Me. I listened to that song a lot in 2008. Jason Isbell eventually broke my heart, and I eventually forgave him, but I still love “Reason To Believe”, and listening to it still makes me feel confident and like I can do anything.

Rod, man. Everybody’s growing up to be Rod, you know?

And then Sheffield got back to the love story, the part where he meets Ally, and they start to build a life together, and she — she puts the Smiths’ “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” on a tape for him, a Depeche Mode tape, and I lost my shit completely. Like, rolled over in bed, slopped the Kindle to the floor, and had one of those weeps where it’s just huge heaving inhuman sobs, because “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” is an Ur-song for me. It is, along with R.E.M.’s “So Awake Volunteer” and the Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man”, one of those love songs that shaped me from far far too early on. It was put on a mix tape for me by the first boy, who is now a man named Tim Catts, who’s married and lives in Jersey, and who I hope occasionally Googles himself, because I would genuinely like to know how he’s doing, and someday I hope he’ll email me.

So “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out”. It undid me. It’s inscribed inside a Stoppard anthology I still own, and re-read. It was a light bulb, terribly metaphorically, going on inside my head.

I am depressed, I am a depressive, and I take medications that are, slowly, like taffy, drawing me out of this worst bout yet, and that is the worst bout over twenty long years of fighting blackness. I am anxious, so anxious that even with medication I am prone to panic attacks that lead to me vomiting on North Carolina highways. (I am a pro at panic attack vomiting on North Carolina highways.) I am an alcoholic, and I will always be one, and I am a drunk, and I am trying, working, very hard, right now, not to be a drunk. I read Love Is A Mix Tape six months before I fell in love with the Cowboy and got my heart all smashed to bits. The Cowboy and I can’t even really be friends these days, and that’s my fault, because something about seeing him makes me want to go on a three day bender and then break some things, and those are things I’m trying not to do. The things I’m not doing. So I can’t see him, even as friends, and so I miss him. If you read this, babe, I miss you. Not like you’re thinking, maybe, but just the comfort of any kind of similar freakazoid mind in my life, like Sheffield says, and if the Cowboy and I could not be in love, and we couldn’t, we were at the heart freakazoids of the same kind.

I read Turn Around Bright Eyes now, when I am trying to put a life back together. The pieces aren’t as strewn as I thought they would be, though parts of it are hard. But this book, moreso than Duran Duran and nothing against that one, this book tilted my world view back into an orbit that I understand. I am not meant to be a girlfriend; I do not have the temperament for it. I may be meant to be a wife, I don’t know. I may be meant to be alone — or to be myself.

But how Rob Sheffield knew to write a brilliant book about second chances, and where we find them, just when I needed it, well. I read his first one just when I needed it as well, so maybe he’s magic.

All I know is that Rob Sheffield is at his best, his true best writing, his genius writing, when he is writing about music and love, marriage love, the kind of partnership that is permanent. And again, no offense to Duran Duran, but Bright Eyes was the book I wanted after Mix Tape. I have broken so many things. I want to know how to fix them. This book tells me how to start. Or at least it tells me how Sheffield started, and that’s a place enough for me to start.

You look up at the sky, and you sing your life.

And that’s why Turn Around Bright Eyes is a great book, not just a good one.

book review: the rolling stones 1972 (jim marshall)

holy ghost tent revival @ trekky records studio

Throughout his entire career, Marshall battled for access. Without free access, he couldn’t do what he did – breathe in the moments and freeze them on film. — Joel Selvin, in the introduction

This is a photo book that highlights the importance of access; not of being friends with the musicians that you shoot (though of course that happens), but having enough trust from them that they will let you into their most intimate moments. Marshall is most famous for the moments he captured on stage, in live shots, but his genius is highlighted in this collection in the behind-the-scenes shots — evidence of the trust that the Rolling Stones had for him. The book opens with a two page black and white shot of Mick Taylor, eyes closed, cigarette in his lips, hands blurred in motion on his guitar, and it is a perfect example, so early on, of what Marshall was doing and had the ability to do: a single moment, captured.

The Stones’ ’72 tour is legendary in rock and roll, setting a standard for performance and debauchery that musicians may still be trying to achieve. The glory of this book, in the first two sections — the studio, and “behind the scenes” — is how still everyone is. It’s a book of moments, to repeat myself, and the stillness of this band that was never still, is extraordinary in its capture of the minutes before things happened, and in giving those minutes weight. How the band lived is central to Marshall’s photos; not the facade of their stage personas, but the moments when they were completely unguarded. There are several behind the scenes photos of an unaware Mick Jagger, face completely open and unguarded, that are staggering images, ones I’ve never seen before even as a fan of Marshall’s work and the Stones.

What makes this book all the more impressive to me is that Marshall worked with film. The clarity of the images, the sharpness of light, never missing anything because you were mis-metered. It’s a tribute to Marshall’s genius, not just artistic but technical; I couldn’t do what he did on film, even with years of practice. The story of the Stones’ ’72 tour is well-known, but this book is the director’s commentary, the secrets you didn’t know. It’s a marvel, and it marks Marshall as the genius that he was.

Recommended for all music photographers. 4 stars.

book review: the polaroid book (taschen 25th anniversary edition)

and i dreamt of a camera

I have a Polaroid. It was my maternal grandmother’s, and it came with two packs of expired, unusable film. I haven’t bought any film from the Impossible Project yet, because I never have any money, but I love Polaroid cameras, and photos. I love the instance of it; the whole point of it, really. I take photos for moments, and Polaroids are the most moment of all cameras.

I bought Taschen’s 25th anniversary edition of The Polaroid Book, a thick collection of photos from Polaroid’s collection of images made over the years of producing its film, with Christmas Amazon gift cards, and have browsed through it at my desk as I edit and review albums for hours ever since. It’s a hefty hardback, hundreds of pages, with a single image on each page, no captions, tiny annotations of photographer on the margins, just images upon images made on Polaroid film. There’s no organization to the images; there’s no overarching theme. It’s just a book full of beautiful images that were all made on instant film.

I am fascinated by the curation of this book; who picked the images, how were they picked? I picture Taschen and Polaroid employees surrounded by hundreds of thousands of fading white-bordered images, handling them all so carefully, putting them into piles of yes and no and maybe, rearranging the drifts and narrowing them down to what appears in the book. The opening essay by Barbara Hitchcock gives a lovely, thoughtful history of Polaroid, rife with cultural significance, and is worth reading before opening the book.

And when you open the book, it is beautiful: single images on white pages, centered carefully, and it is a book that is devoted to nothing but the images. I found myself held captive by single surprising images over and over again, stopped by the page I had turned to, and that is the sign of a great, not good, photo book: the captivation of one image, on white, that stops your breath. The Polaroid Book stops your breath over and over again. I recommend it whole-heartedly for anyone who loves instant photography.

Celebrate Polaroids and good music (two things I love) with this amazing stop-motion video, made by Walker Lukens (singer/songwriter) and the Impossible Project folks out of thousands of Polaroids. It’s amazing. It’s the coolest thing I’ve seen this year. “Dear Someone” is from Lukens’ upcoming record Devoted, out April 2, and I’m really looking forward to that, too.