Into the sun and other worlds

by Paul Smart
July 21, 2011 12:44 PM | 0 0 comments | 827 827 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Summer reading. What’s crossed the transom here at Ulster Publishing of late, by authors with local ties, that fits the bill for beach haunts, back yard hammocks, and air-conditioned nooks when the temperature rises a bit too much?

For contemplating the basics, one should look no further than The Sun’s Heartbeat, (Little Brown), by longstanding Ulster Publishing Night Sky columnist Bob Berman.

“Familiarity is the enemy of awe, and for the most part people walk the busy streets with no upward glance. In fact, one of the common bits of advice about the Sun is that we shouldn’t look at it,” the straight-voiced but proudly strutting scientist writes in that manner more and more readers across the globe have gotten used to over the years, starting here. “Sunlight is not just good for us; it can save our lives. This is news worth sharing.”

And extrapolating, it turns out, as Berman touches on a host of Sun-only phenomenon that describe a great deal about earthly happenings of recent years, some of it seemingly in direct opposition to (or eclipsing of) Climate Change science and opinion. He builds his argument well…stating several theses, then building up trust through a lively overview of our checkered history of understanding (and misunderstanding) that fiery orb that burns us this time of year.

The result is great fun, just testy enough to keep one reading, as well as cursing…and very possibly a route to the top of the bestseller lists.

Let’s just hope that along the way, our friend Bob doesn’t get picked up as a talking head by any agenda-driven entertainment entities seeking so-called fairness and balance. Although, having seen him in action over the years, it may be they we should be more worried for. Or hoping Berman catalyzes, as he’s done with at least my view of El Sol this coming summer.


As for “hot” in other ways, The Beginners (Riverhead Books), by Greene County-based Rebecca Wolff, is getting pegged by Amazon, Vogue, and even Oprah as a top read for the season. It’s big enough to be getting the sort of mixed reviews (along with mostly raves) that prominence seems to demand these days. It’s an auspicious debut, a 15-year old’s coming of age story mashed up with a gothic glimpse into the sort of forgotten towns we all know here in exur bia, where reservoirs swallow and haunt our connections to the past… as well as one’s own eternal need to be liked, or looked on as equals, by those who confuse us.

“Does it seem obvious to you, too, that I required protection? How embarrassing,” Wolff’s narrator, Ginger, writes in a voice looking back on her actions a decade earlier. “I have mentioned before that I felt myself at this time to be ageless, and I would posit that feeling for all children. A child does not perceive herself as such – not in the way that adults grow ever more concerned with their status, their chronos, as it shows itself ever more clearly on their bodies and in the shortening days ahead.”

Wolff’s book can be judged solely on its narrative, its sense of character and other novelistic attributes…which her assumption of such elements seeks, on one level. But it can also be judged, as with something as beautifully quirky and controversial as Terrence Malick’s new film, The Tree of Life, as a doorway into a welcome new voice and way of seeing the world. She’s an astute observer, a brilliant capturer of turns of phrase and interpretations of words’ meaning. She gets things about living, and experiencing, that I feel will stay with me as clearly as others’ works have stayed with me over the years.

I’ve had out-of-place urbanite friends in rural places, as seemingly evil (and lost) as Theo and Raquel. And close friends I’ve ignored, as Ginger goes Cherry. And I recognize this, from when I was a kid, and more recently…

That, “There were so many things, in those days, that I took for granted. For instance, none of the more ominous eventualities would pan out. That’s how we go on living our lives, after all; hoping for, if not the best, at least not the worst.”

A great start…


As is Catskill artist Dina Bursztyn’s first bilingual kids’ book, The Land of Lost Things (Pinata Books), about a child who loses a blue pencil and goes looking for it. Simple, well-drawn, and able to speak to anyone who’s ever wondered where all those socks and umbrellas and keys may have ended up. There’s just enough of the dreamlike and surreal (“I cut a hole in this page, and I fell in. Along with many lost and falling things, I was lost, too!”

I have a five year old who likes crazy humor or boy’s adventures. We can read “Ten Minutes To Bedtime” nightly, if need be.

He liked it, asked that we read it again. Then put it away for other books…and started making a box of lost things and drawing them.

Way to go, book!


On a similar level, for us similarly child-like adults, is The Word Project: Odd & Obscure Words — Illustrated (self published but available on Amazon) by another local artist, Polly M. Law, who specializes in bricolage…with a thing for buttons. For a while, I’ve adored what Law does but wondered about how it should be seen. It’s fun, caught in someone’s home but often seems lost in a gallery. Here, her illustrations of words is witty and perfect…and if there’s a god Ms. Law can summon, she should definitely pitch this work for a much larger production…and then a traveling show for libraries and other special exhibition spaces where people can take the time to linger with all on view here, from dancing snowmen and graceful geishas to a host of many-legged dolls.

Then again, maybe a producer willing to spring for a script that would utilize these images and characters the way Coraline and Tim Burton took animation to new levels.

Ah, dreams…


Finally, a couple of art books…

Accelerating on the Curves: The Artist’s Roadmap to Success, published by Katherine T. Carter & Associates of Columbia County, is something of a must-have for mid-career artists, as well as anyone contemplating a hard life trying to balance creativity with reality. While not the most aesthetically-pleasing work, the information included is experienced, professional, and mostly written with an eye to local artists. It includes getting one’s exhibits p[reviewed or, more prized, reviewed. It addresses ways to utilize websites and social media to build audience…as well as ways not to lose a gallery, as well as how to get one, and when to shift upward. It even touches into means by which one can sharpen one’s work, as well as glimpses into such modern arts phenomena as “forging one’s brand,” artist statements, “building your profit portfolio,” and art fairs.

Dry at times? Yes. But so is making anything into a bonafide business, which the best artists do.


Meanwhile, Galen Joseph-Hunter’s similarly dry Transmission Arts: Artists & Airwaves (PAJ Publications), which serves as a rare introduction to an entire new art form, is strangely magical and resonant on a cumulative basis. Set up similar to a catalogue, with Wikipedia-like entrees on 150 artists and art works spunked-up via a host of qualitative adjectives, the work sets out to explain how manipulation of the airwaves has emerged as its own art form in recent years, separate from radio, sound and video art. It even has its own centralizing not-for-profit regranting organization (free103point9, on whose board I serve), and a community radio station that dedicates a third of its time to Transmission Arts archives (WGXC-FM, available online and in Columbia and Greene counties).

“The artists and artists described,” Joseph-Hunter writes in her introduction to this collection, “are notable for their consideration of the relationship between artist and audience — transmitter and receiver — in addition to the formal use of the airwaves.”

Much history is discussed, reaching back into the early days of electronics and radio, including the Italian-dominated Futurist arts movement and later avant garde experimentalists and thinkers from Brecht to Cage and Buckminster Fuller. And the works included are broad enough to have one scratching one’s head at times, wondering why Videofreex and Nam June Paik made it, but Gary Hill and Pauline Oliveros didn’t. Yet gradually, as one gets drawn into the out-of-box thinking that predominates here (as well as the acute analyses of the various wavelengths affecting our every move contemporaneously), one starts to figure out why some are here and others aren’t, albeit on an almost instinctual level. As well as understanding what you, too, could do to get savvy enough with the airwaves, and deep mischief, to become a transmission artist, oneself.

Taken together, these subtle attributes end up making this book important as a starting point for serious discussion of this new field, as well as a kick-off for eventual academic study and discourse…given someone else doesn’t come along and rename it all (as has happened to other fields, over time).

Consider Joseph-Hunter’s first book as the thesis against which future antitheses, and syntheses, can be posited…and unlike almost everything else we’re forced to read and review these days.

“Inspired and supported by…inventors, activists, and organizations, contemporary transmission art is united by a spirit of experimentation and innovation,” the book says, addressing the fast-widening avenues for participation in new art forms, as well as the underlying activism involved in playing with television and radio airwaves. “As new wireless technologies develop so too will the projects of artists.”

Think back a few generations to those days when photography and film were brand new, and weird. And pick this up as a new cultural primer, a cosmic reader for coming aesthetics as yet not fully recognized.


Almost all of these books can be picked up at Golden Notebook or via their author’s individual websites.

As for upcoming readings and events, a party celebrating the publication of Transmission Arts will be held at the Spotty Dog Bookstore and Bar/Café at 440 Warren Street in Hudson at 6:00 PM on Saturday evening, July 23 (518 671 6006;;  while Mr. Berman will talk about his book, and the other stars and celestial bodies, at the Mountain Top Arboretum, Route 23C in Hunter, at 8:00 PM on Saturday, July 23 (518 589-3903;


Next Week: Ed Breslin’s great new memoir, Drinking With Miss Dutchie; David Malcolm Rose’s The Rock & Roll Chronicles, Florence Wetzel’s Dashiki; Peter Weissman’s Digging Deeper: A Memoir Of The Seventies; Janet Planet, by Eleanor Lerman, and As a Peace-Loving Global Citizen, by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

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