Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Dorothy Cole, Jessica English, Gaylon M. Parsons

NOVEMBER 9, 1998: 

Of Time and Change
by Frank Waters (MacMurray & Beck, cloth, $20)

Most of the outside world was introduced to the culture of New Mexico through the work of an amazing group of artists and writers who migrated to Taos in the first half of this century. Frank Waters was a member of that group and was instrumental in initiating many well known Easterners and foreigners into the new world that they came to appreciate and to immortalize. It's easy to forgive him the occasional awkward phrase because of the easygoing truthfulness that permeates this informal memoir. As far as Waters was concerned, all the artists that he knew were as skillful and as significant as they each found themselves; he was close enough to the people he wrote about to understand their motivations and to decline to judge them on any other terms. His Mabel Dodge Luhan and Tony Lujan are simply a couple from different backgrounds who happen to love one another. Others come off as small and as human, just people Waters hung around with. This is a short book, and fun to read.(DC)

Posada's Broadsheets
by Patrick Frank (UNM Press, cloth, $50; paper, $24.95)

Mexican popular artist Jose Guadalupe Posada captured the sensational news events of his day with dramatic illustrations. Subtitled "Mexican Popular Imagery, 1890-1910," this book shows examples of his work at different stages in his career and tells about the events that he chronicled, putting Posada's work into the context of his historical era. The cover picture, for instance, shows a man who killed his parents with an ax and tried to eat his infant son. This volume's key weakness, though, is too little showing and a whole lot of telling. Professor Patrick Frank spends gallons of ink not only going into the gory details of the stories behind the pictures, but also explicating the visual rules and aesthetic standards that Posada used, abused or ignored. Call me a philistine, but I would have preferred more illustrations and less erudition, maybe including longer portions of the original broadside text and more of the photographs and news reports that Posada used as sources. Still, the subject is worth studying, and this book is nothing if not thorough. (DC)

Read My Lips
by Meg Cohen Ragas & Karen Kozlowski (Chronicle, cloth, $14.95)

I believe in the power of lipstick. As Meg Ragas and Karen Kozlowski write, lipstick gives women a sense of confidence; it empowers them to speak out. Lipstick is seductive: Its shape, like a tongue or a phallus, makes the very act of application erotic. Read My Lips covers everything but, sadly, with superficial treatment--from song lyrics about lipstick to stats on smears that grasp for some significance about its lasting impact. And the ladies try a little bit too hard to justify writing "A Cultural History of Lipstick." Véronique Vienna's intro goes so far as to make a plea for a sort of lipstick liberation, urging women to stop hiding behind bathroom doors to paint their lips. Other factoids and cheesy quotes from the likes of Sandra Bullock are strewn throughout. But the history is fascinating--what 23 pages are devoted to it--plus old advertisements and Vogue pages make Chronicle's picture-book grade. It's just too bad Ragas and Kozlowski had to smear it on so thick, making light of lipstick's true cultural impact. (JE)

Birds of America
by Lorrie Moore (Knopf, cloth, $23)

John J. Audubon shot dead each of the birds he painted, so they would remain still while he endeavored to make them appear as life-like as possible. Lorrie Moore's art does not require a body count; she has written stories of moving, living people. Some are migratory, taking secret stories to small towns, while others remain near the nest while flocks of people fly in and out of their lives. One woman's marriage ends, and on a trip to Ireland with her tough-as-nails mother discovers the hidden panic and suspicion cowering within. Two men travel together at what appears to be the end of their relationship, but in the lobby of the famous Peabody Hotel (home of very wealthy ducks) recover their bond. One dying woman battles the crows that have taken over her backyard and the raccoons that have infested the walls of her new home. Many of these stories have appeared previously in The New Yorker, where they were separately dazzling. Taken together, they soar. (GMP)

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