Here are the latest four books on my Amazon pre-order list. I can’t claim they are reviews – after all, the books have not even been published yet, but they look sufficiently promising for me to commit my credit card number:
The Book of Dead Philosophers – this purports to be a set of brief accounts of about 200 philosophers’ lives and deaths. It is compiled by a well-known philosopher, Simon Critchley, Philosophy Chair at the New School and the Chief Philosopher of the whimsical International Necronautical Society. There are page previews available at Amazon of the British edition and they had me laughing out loud. (Note: after I pre-ordered this, I came across this favorable article.)
The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989 – this is the catalogue of the just opened art show at the New York Guggenheim (a show that I will be seeing soon.) Here are some sections from a New York Times review (that is written in an atrociously informal style – since when did the Times allow writers to use “for sure” in the first sentence of one of their pieces?): “The first thing you see is a 1970 piece by the West Coast conceptualist Paul Kos: a circle of microphones clustered around a block of melting ice, picking up the sound of every crack and drip. Up the ramp is the famous ink and brush painting of a circle, triangle and square by Sengai Gibon (1750-1837). It’s a Zen Mona Lisa, on a rare loan from Japan. And just beyond that is The Death of James Lee Byars: an open-front box, a kind of teahouse as wide as a two-car garage, lined with blazing gold leaf, with a bierlike platform inside. Mr. Byars, an American Buddhist dandy, long resident in Japan, made the piece when he was very much alive and sometimes lay on the bier ‘practicing death.’ Now that he’s gone – he died in 1997 – five small crystals take his place. The show finds the museum unusually full of sounds, however faint. Bells held in a kind of cage periodically sail down the spiral and ring. Synthesizers drone and vibrate away somewhere, and an amplified buzzing of bees has, when you get close, the roar of fighter planes. Periodically parcels of books descend by pulley from on high, as part of an elaborate – overly elaborate – installation by Ann Hamilton. Lights flash in the dark; paintings all but disappear into walls.” The catalogue should arrive from Amazon just before I leave on my trip, so I can study up in advance.
Blank Spots on a Map: the Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World – so this is a bit of a ringer – I know the author Trevor Paglen. Trevor is a graduate student in geography and an artist specializing in trying to understand US intelligence efforts. He conducts tours of secret military sites and is interested in mapping out the “black world.” He took photographs and co-authored one of the most amazing travel books of all time, Torture Taxi, on the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program, and collected the mysterious shoulder patches (think merit badges for the military) of a number of US intelligence missions in I Could Tell You But Then I Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me. Steven Aftergood has some strong opinions about this new book by Trevor, and Steven reports that it focuses a great deal on “[the] Groom Lake facility in Nevada, secret prisons in Afghanistan, secret satellite constellations in orbit, secret contractor locations around Washington, DC, and elsewhere.” This should be out in two weeks from Amazon.
The NRSV Notetaker’s Bible – J. Mark Bertrand calls wide-margin Bibles “the thinking man’s study Bible.” Rick Mansfield says “I feel like I haven't really used a Bible if I haven't written in it.” There is no doubt about it – wide-margin Bibles are a delight, whether for taking notes or making doodles. Thanks in part to energetic support from those two writers, a number of publishers are releasing wide-margin Bibles. If you read Hebrew, one of the best is this beauty, which I heartily recommend. If you read the Bible in English you have a number of choices, but it is exciting news that the closest thing we have to a “universal English translation”, the celebrated New Revised Standard Version, is coming out in two editions (regular and deluxe). The deluxe cloth edition looks especially thick and useful. Sample pages posted on the Internet look great.