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Austin Chronicle Off the Bookshelf

AUGUST 16, 1999: 

Revolutionary Romanticism edited by Max Blechman (City Lights Books), $15.95 paper

According to William Blake, "... this world is all One continued vision or fancy or imagination." Notice there are no similes. For Blake, the sunrise is "an Innumerable company of angels," singing praises to God. As the compact and accessible Revolutionary Romanticism makes clear, the heart of romanticism has always been the imaginative animation of an inanimate world. Editor Max Blechman deftly excavates the history of the movement early in the anthology, belying the perception that Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, and Blake leapt from the ether into sophomore literature courses. The anthology traces the movement of early German romantic thought from Novalis and Schlegal, who believe individual freedom is grounded in aesthetics and urge a fundamental revision of our relationship to nature, to Andre Breton's romantically fueled surrealism, which inspires a political insurrection in Haiti. With few exceptions (the skimpy chapter on women's contributions is one), this Drunken Boat Anthology provides a readable, comprehensive history of "a continued Vision" at odds with an empirical world. -- Scott Blackwood


Sex for the Millennium by Harold Jaffe (FC2/Black Ice Books), $9 paper

"'Real' is a category designed and executed by white males. Technology is not unreal. Nor is nature, as such, real." Plato would have been stunned, but in the context of Harold Jaffe's short stories, the above tenet makes perfect sense. Not for the timid, Sex for the Millennium is a collection of 12 "extreme tales" written by the editor of Fiction International. With dialogues as hilarious as they are startling, Jaffe satirizes the under-the-covers perversity of corporate American materialism and stereotypes. The cover image is a collage of long legs in high heels, Dennis Rodman's face, and a basketball; it's a teaser for the fictional interview titled "Rodman." When asked via e-mail if he expected any sort of response by the baskeball star, Jaffe responds, "Rodman don't read. None of his entourage read. If they did and had any sense they'd like what I wrote." Cutting and provocative, Jaffe spares no shame. --Lindsey Simon


Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live by Akiko Busch (Princeton Architectural Press), $19.95 hard

Akiko Busch's elegant and charming book walks us through the American house as if we were on a tour not only of a home's geography, but also of its culture and history. In the chapter on the library, for example, Busch muses how beautiful and simple a Shaker library could have been, if only the Shakers had loved books. She observes that while houses now hold far more computers than they ever held libraries, we have lost many of the plush and private comforts once offered by rooms devoted to knowledge. Likewise, Busch explains how the rise of the automobile transformed the socially accommodating front porch and the grandiose front door into ceremonial vestiges of the past. Busch's sharp insights into human progress and folly guide us through kitchen, closet, living room, and bedroom. She places each room in a historical perspective to reveal how technology and public trends have profoundly impacted our private spaces and our humanity. --Mason West


Italian Fever by Valerie Martin (Knopf), $22 hard

Valerie Martin, author of The Great Divorce and Mary Reilly, has come out with a fun, easy read that takes us to golden Tuscany for a funeral, a brush with death, a whirlwind fling, a ghost, and the introspection that is sure to follow each of these events. In between, we get to read mouthwatering commentary on great art and glorious meals. Kudos to Martin for managing a rare thing: a romantic mystery novel that manages to be light without being superfluous, sexy without being trashy, and deceptive without contrivance. Like protagonist Lucy Stark, the author gets credit for having both a passionate streak and a good head on her shoulders. -- Meredith Phillips


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