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By Blake de Pastino, Tracey Cooley, Jessica English and Julie Birnbaum

Mechanical Brides
by Ellen Lupton (Princeton Architectural Press, paper, $17.95)

AUGUST 18, 1997:  The bitch is in the details. Or as Jean Genet more eloquently put it, "Nothing is insignificant." That's the gut-punch of studying material culture, and Mechanical Brides is just one recent title to explore the meanings of physical objects. Written to complement an exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design, this study is a red-hot feminist reading of three gender-heavy household items: the washing machine, the telephone and the typewriter. Curator Ellen Lupton makes short work of these contraptions, deconstructing not only how they were marketed to women but also the subtler visual messages of each machine's design. Did you know that pink was the most popular color for washing machines in the '50s? Or that the government classifies call girls as communications workers? One way of understanding why women are treated like objects, Lupton suggests, is to get at the objects themselves. (BdeP)

Fame & Folly
by Cynthia Ozick (Vintage, paper, $13)

The notoriety of literary greats such as T.S. Eliot, Henry James, Saul Bellow and Mark Twain--as well as the lesser-known Alfred Chester--does not always reflect their private lives. Here Cynthia Ozick describes the humanness of our seemingly perfect idols of literature. From Chester's bright orange wig hiding his baldness to Eliot being intimidated by an audacious editor, Ozick effectively reveals the portrait of the artist independent of his art form. The early influences of literature and historical events are also included to address imperfection on a larger scale. These essays are impassioned and thought-provoking, however, a strong interest in literature is a prerequisite. Ozick will undoubtedly be praised by academics, but if you're looking for a "light" read, look elsewhere. (TLC)

Migrant Song
by Teresa McKenna (Univ. of Texas Press, paper, $12.95)

As much as the attitudes and personalities of the people in our Southwestern state are shaped by the long, hot summers, the varied landscapes that surround us, by our many celebrations, the artistry and folklore, so are they shaped by Chicano literature. Teresa McKenna examines the bond between literary work by Chicanos and their social, political and psychological conflicts throughout events and history, both in the United States and Mexico. Ultimately, through the essays that represent 10 years of study, excerpted works and poignant analysis, Migrant Song shows that Chicano literature--as with the works from all people of color--should be included in education curriculums as a viable and important literary theory. Diversity in the classroom--supplied in part by study of Chicano literature--is necessary to preserve this culture that we value dearly, even Anglos like me. (JE)

Franco American Dreams
by Julie Taylor (Scribner, paper, $12)

Among the growing pool of Gen X novels, Franco American Dreams stands out in its truthful, fresh depiction of the generation for whom, Julie Taylor writes, River Phoenix was JFK. Taylor's debut novel at age 25 is an uncommon success story: Picked from the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts, it was published and will be made into a film. Abbie, 19, the novel's heroine, is a stereotypical upper-class blond fashion student, chasing the wrong boys. For the first 100 pages, my jaw dropped at Abbie's "omigod" superficiality. As the book progresses, however, Abbie becomes complex and real and eventually lovable. Soaked with pop-culture references, in some ways the novel's voice might appeal to just a small sector of the population, but the issues of Abbie's coming of age are universally human. (JB)

--Blake de Pastino, Tracy L. Cooley, Jessica English and Julie Birnbaum

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