Saturday, January 29, 2005

Deborah Copaken Kogan, Shutterbabe

If you like photography, this book is for you.

If you like writing that captures the intensity of war-torn Afghanistan in 1988, or transports the reader from the decandence of Switzerland to the parkways of France (stopping along the way in Romania and Haiti and Zimbabwe), documenting the zeitgeist of the 1990s "me-decade" all the while, this book is for you.

And if you like a narrator who is ditzy, self-centered, peevish, and whiny . . . well, umm . . . this book is for you.

What I liked about this memoir is the author's travels and descriptions of the cultures she encountered. She even made camera specs sound interesting, which only goes to show that her passion for her career (photojournalism) is infectious. However, I found her annoying, especially when she'd prattle on about the men in her life and the way they made her "feel" as a woman (ugh!). I just wasn't interested, and while I kept expecting (hoping, even) to see a bildungsroman-type self-awareness develop in her voice by memoir's end, it just never happened.

At the end of the book (and I'm not giving anything away here) Kogan includes a two-part Afterword, part one written prior to 9/11 and part two written just after, meant to highlight the "quaint but misguided relic of an ancient, more innocent era" (i.e., the pre-9/11 American mindset). What I find most disturbing is just how "quaint" and "ancient" that one brief moment in American history immediately following the WTC attacks seems today -- that moment when Americans felt (and were perceived as) victimized and received the world's sympathy.

Taken in today's 2005 context, that era too seems like a "misguided relic."

Overall, this book was okay. I wasn't blown away, but it had its moments.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

When The Levee Breaks: The Making of Led Zeppelin IV, by Andy Fyfe

When Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980 due to drummer John Bonham's death, I was but a mere freshman in high school. Nevertheless, my close friends and I continued to worship this band for the duration of our high school years, and to this day it is difficult for me to remember anything between 1980 and 1984 without its having a Led Zeppelin soundtrack.

Reading this book was fun for me because it was like an opportunity to visit with an old friend, in this case Zep's fourth album (officially untitled, but known by several names). Back in high school I did all the requisite fetishisms a true Zeppelin fan was supposed to do with this album: drawn the four runes on your notebook, speculate on the cover and sleeve artwork, and (most importantly) play "Stairway to Heaven" backwards on your turntable to try to pick out the alleged references to Satan (which, now in retrospect, was a pretty silly and pointless activity, though at the time it certainly added to the Zeppelin mystique).

Fyfe's book provides an enjoyable look at all aspects of the making of this album, from recording to cover art to track sequencing to promotion. Additionally, he offers a healthy dose of background information on the formation and development of the band, as well as its volitile relationship with the media and its overall influence on the music industry. While much of the band background and interview material was old stuff for me (a longtime Zeppelin afficionado, quite honestly), the book will appeal to those of you who enjoy Zeppelin's music and would like to learn more about the band itself. Either way, Fife's book is a quick, enjoyable read.

This book is one of several in the "Vinyl Frontier" series, published by the Chicago Review Press.