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Austin Chronicle Off the Bookshelf

AUGUST 2, 1999: 

flatnessisgod: art + design + process + picture plane theory + x, y by Ryan McGinness (Soft Skull Press), $30 paper

Based in chapters titled Base, Image, Taking, Reduction, Space, Language, Identity, Dominance, Parts, Artifact, and Mirror, flatnessisgod purports to offer "a thorough exploration of the basic practice of seeing and consuming the second dimension." In reality, the reader gets 254 pages of paintings, sketches, logos, layouts, and converted graffiti which basically amount to a massive portfolio of McGinness' work. Though his many talents are apparent, and the work itself is pleasing, making 108 marks with your left hand (p.83) and publishing it in a book with the annotation "symbols, mark making," is about as thorough an exploration of the second dimension as this review is of the book itself.-- Taylor Holland

No Shame in My Game: The Working Poor in the Inner City by Katherine S. Newman (Knopf), $27.95 hard

Hot grease, minimum wage, and no respect. It's all part of the job for fast-food workers in Harlem -- and still many of them, teenagers and adults alike, feel lucky just to be employed. The work ethic is very much alive in the inner city, anthropologist Newman finds in her two-year study of the working poor, but the barriers to self-sufficiency are formidable. Newman, however, doesn't just rub our noses in the bleak impoverishment of the ghetto -- the lack of living-wage jobs and affordable child care, the intolerable rents, the downward mobility of families once employed in manufacturing jobs -- that are familiar to any daily newspaper reader. She asks the questions most journalists wouldn't consider: not, for example, Where did these people go wrong? but What is it that gives the working poor the backbone to stay off welfare and avoid the drug business when the rewards are so scant? The answers Newman procures may not be profound, but they do reveal a strength and courage in her subjects. -- Kevin Fullerton

In September, the Light Changes by Andrew Holleran (Hyperion), $23.95 hard

In this poignantly insightful set of 16 short stories, Andrew Holleran projects a languorous dimension to the gay experience through the lenses of middle-aged men who live rather desperately quiet lives just inside the margins of gay communities. Like the title, these stories evoke the wistful perception of passing time and the longing for things past sans sentimentality. Holleran's distinctly described characters and sharp, to-the-point dialogue contribute to an underlying tone that seems to rebuke the destructive superficialities that often define and betray gay sensibilities. In "The Hamburger Man," one of the lighter stories, Mister Friel is an overweight, alcoholic, and bombastic dinner guest whose only value is his supply of celebrity gossip. But he proves to be the perfect foil to those who, like so many of Holleran's love-starved characters, take themselves and their sexuality a bit too seriously. -- Annine Miscoe

Feel This Book: An Essential Guide to Self-Empowerment, Spiritual Supremacy, and Sexual Satisfaction by Ben Stiller and Janeane Garofalo (Ballantine), $22.95 hard

As terrific a pair of comedians as Janeane Garofalo and Ben Stiller are, this satirical self-help guide is a bit of a mess. Nevertheless, Feel This Book is worth a look. In the alternating, "he said/she said" chapters, there are plenty of strong moments. Garofalo plays to her stand-up strengths with concepts such as "Meals on Wheels II," in which elderly or shut-ins have to pay for their chow; Stiller relies on bone-dry wit as in, "A very wise old man once said we are the stuff that dreams are made out of." But limited to print, these talented performers only deliver occasional flashes of brilliance. -- Stuart Wade

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