Gift Ideas: 10 Hilobrow Books

December 4, 2009

This holiday season, give someone you love a 2009 book written by one of’s talented contributors and friends. Buy books via’s Hermenautic Circle Store (links below) and we’ll rake in a percentage from each sale!


* The BLDGBLOG Book (Chronicle, $19.77), by Geoff Manaugh. “I want to reiterate that BLDGBLOG is fundamentally about following, and not being ashamed by, your own enthusiasms, whether or not they are rigorous and appropriate for the academic mores of the day, or even interesting for your family and friends.” So says Manaugh, author of our favorite history/urban exploration/science fiction/design/climate change/city planning blog. The book is gorgeous and amazing. Buy it here.



* Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard 1905-1930 (Verse Chorus Press, $24.95), by Luc Sante. Can anyone else lovingly interrogate a photograph like’s Luc Sante? We think not. Here, Sante broods over his collection of “real-photo” postcards, which depict Americans in the early 20th century engaged in the sorts of homely activities that Douglas Rushkoff would like us to revive: e.g., eating, sleeping, labor, worship, animal husbandry, amateur theatrics, and barn raising. Of course, Sante’s areas of expertise are dissolution, riot, disaster, and death — and they’re well represented in this gorgeous volume, too! Sante says: “The pictures, 122 of ’em, display the United States (and Canada and Mexico to a smaller extent) of a century ago in all its messiness, sprawl, disaster, homely comfort, hard labor, pageantry, violence, optimism, piety, ignorance, hubris, imaginative flight, orderliness, grandeur, chaos, and pastoral quiet.” Buy it here.



* Crooks Like Us (Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, $25.20), by Peter Doyle. OK, Peter Doyle, who happens to be a friend of Sante’s (and ours), is also terrific at lovingly interrogating a photograph. Here, the talented Australian crime novelist, historian, and musician shines a light on 1920s-era mugshots from the New South Wales Police archives… and makes ’em sing. Buy it here.



* Three Classics (Playscripts Inc., $7.95), by Jason Grote. Adaptations and updatings of three classical stories by playwright (and contributor) Jason Grote. In (Anti)gone, the aftermath of war is explored in a world of shopping malls, highways, and airports. Racine’s Phaedra is combined with Hitchcock, Iggy Pop, Mixed Martial Arts, and Slavoj Zizek in In His Bold Gaze, My Ruin is Writ Large. The final play, Prometheus Rendered, is an examination of the Prometheus myth using the torture techniques employed by U.S. interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. Buy it here.



* Food & Beverage (All-Seeing Eye, $8), by Mimi Lipson. Five short stories about bars and restaurants, by’s Mimi Lipson. Grease and burnt coffee has never smelled this delicious. This chapbook includes a gorgeous 4-color silkscreen cover by the author! Buy it here.



* Love in Infant Monkeys: Stories (Soft Skull, $11.16), by Lydia Millet. In this collection of tales about famous people and animals — the elephant Thomas Edison electrocuted, the dove Nikola Tesla loved, the swamp rabbit that attacked Jimmy Carter — the talented Ms. Millet reveals that she’s not only a brilliant absurdist/satirist but a starry-eyed idealist. A rare bird, indeed! Buy it here.



* Chronic City (Doubleday, $18.45), by Jonathan Lethem. “I’m familiar enough with some (by no means all) of the milieux Jonathan Lethem traverses — virtual worlds habituated by science fiction mavens, comic impresarios, and punk rock scholars — to believe in the syncretistic simulacrum he’s built in Chronic City,” writes’s Matthew Battles, in a review of this excellent novel. “The knowledge that ours are nested worlds is a postmodern convention; that we might learn to inhabit these circles-within-circles with all the energies of love and kindness arrives as a kind of wisdom, a discovery.” Buy it here.



* Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back (Random House, $17.16), by Douglas Rushkoff. How did corporations go from nothing more than a convenient legal fiction to the dominant fact of contemporary life? Rushkoff traces this development, and argues that five centuries of corporate influence have reduced each of us to little more than a mini-corporation. As Rushkoff told’s Peggy Nelson, in an interview: “We’ve mistaken our jobs for work. We’ve mistaken our bank accounts for savings. We’ve mistaken our 401k investments for our future. We’ve mistaken our property for assets, and our assets for the world.” Buy it here.



* Glenn Gould (Penguin Canada, $26), by Mark Kingwell. In this constellation of 21 essays on different aspects of the eccentric Canadian pianist’s life and work (a riff on the 21 takes that Gould required to record the opening aria for his famous 1955 interpretation of Bach’s Goldberg Variations),’s Kingwell makes a case that Gould was a philosopher of music — in the ancient sense of the term “philosopher.” That is to say, his philosophical notions (though contradictory, mischievous, and deliberately provocative) governed his life. Buy it here.



* The Sovereignties of Invention: Three Tales of Language, Mystery, and the Mind (HiLobrow Kindle Edition, $0.99), by Matthew Battles. Three stories by coeditor Matthew Battles, now available for Kindle! In the title story, the protagonist heads off on a run with a new device to record his thoughts, and never comes back. In “The Manuscript of Belz,” a librarian encounters a mysterious manuscript of doubtful authenticity, which may harbor a dark secret. “I After the Cloudy Doubly Beautifully” explores the wilderness of language by means of a steampunk translation machine. Buy it here.