Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Susan Schuurman, Jessica English, Todd Gibson, Angie Drobnic

APRIL 20, 1998: 

33 Moments of Happiness
by Ingo Schulze (Knopf, cloth, $23)

Tucked into just over 300 pages are 33 surreal vignettes based on the six months this new German author spent in St. Petersburg, Russia, working as a newspaper editor. Translated from the German, some are too short to warrant the name "short story," as they barely fill a page, while others flesh out to several dozen in length. We meet Russian hookers, violent arms dealers, shady black-marketeers, naive German tourists and cynical pensioners. Displaying deceptive ease, Ingo Schulze plays with language like a composer tickling the ivories. Some especially resonating stories include: a devilish scene at a banya culminating in an erotic cannibalistic feast--with an alive and willing victim; the poignant tale of a solitary widow, living her vacuous life hearing voices, plodding through her desolate existence of personal hygiene rituals, surviving the subway and standing in eternal lines for a marmalade jarful of milk, and a particularly poetic page and a half evoking a frozen city and its inhabitants thawing under the sun's first springtime rays. Unpredictable and playful, Schulze's prose reflects the many contradictory facets of modern Russian life--and his future work is eagerly anticipated. (SS)

Advertising Outdoors
by David Bernstein (Phaidon, cloth, $75)

Who would have thought that a couple of frogs could sell so much beer? Maybe you understand it better when you speed past those two frogs on a billboard, towering hundreds of feet above the Interstate, and you instantly think: "Mmm. Budweiser." It's concepts like these--a condensed message that can elicit a viewer response in split seconds--that make outdoor ads the ultimate challenge for designers and advertisers, according to David Bernstein. Advertising Outdoors examines ads that consumers encounter once they step out their front door. It goes without saying that the design here is stunning: This Brit publishing company only puts out the sleekest, most colorful coffee- table books (or rather, tomes). But Bernstein, an advertising megastar hailing from Oxford University, is a sly adman, drawing even the neophytes on the subject into the text and away from just flipping through to peruse the photos of retro and foreign billboards or ad-packed street scenes. Full of history, rules for design, kitsch, nostalgia and a future view, Advertising Outdoors is a book for ad people and designers, as well as consumers of ads who want not the product, but to hold onto the ads themselves. (JE)

Snowboarding to Nirvana
by Frederick Lenz (St. Martins/Griffin, paper, $10.95)

Why does Buddhism fascinate so many Americans? Well, be it a vague dissatisfaction with modern culture, a rejection of consumerism or an actual belief in its spiritual course, it has inspired thousands of people to pick up Frederick Lenz's autobiographical account of a Buddhist awakening, Surfing the Himalayas. One suspects his second effort in a planned trilogy, Snowboarding to Nirvana, will be just as popular. The idea--that a Western ski bum on a trip through Nepal would meet a Buddhist master who convinces him that meditation will help improve his snowboarding--could have been a charming exploration of the relation between religion and extreme sports. Unfortunately, in presenting his autobiography as a work of fiction, Lenz spins a tale with absolutely no plot, wandering through snowboarding scenes, Buddhist lessons and mystical revelations with the intensity of a channel surfer.

Snowboarding to Nirvana does contain many small insights into Buddhism, offering specific instructions on meditation and explaining some of the religion's basic tenets in a modern voice. However, the book suffers from Lenz's apparent view of his audience as typical Gen Xers straight out of a Mountain Dew commercial. A Ph.D., Lenz uses words like "gnarly" and "savage" in misguided attempts to establish "extreme" credentials, which is almost as distracting as it is insulting. It's too bad that his Buddhist teachers couldn't have taught Lenz a thing or two about writing a book. (TG)

Red Blood and Black Ink: Journalism in the Old West
by David Dary (Knopf, cloth, $30)

If you ever really want to know what was happening at a specific time in history, some of the best sources are newspapers. Historian David Dary's new book makes excellent use of this credo to explore the rough and tumble journalism of the Old West. Besides documenting the rise of newspapers, the book also shows how the media and notions of objectivity have changed radically in the past century. Personal attacks seemed the order of the day for most papers, especially against each others' writers, like this excerpt from a Kansas paper: "It is with great reluctance we condescend to notice anything from the vituperative pen of the insignificant, puerile, silly, black-guard who at present presides over the Editorial conduct of the Sovereign." Red Blood and Black Ink fascinates with what it says about the past and what the past says about the present. (AD)

--Susan Schuurman, Jessica English, Todd Gibson and Angie Drobnic

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