by Jason Breedlove
Jason Breedlove spent a third of his life in an Iowa prison, and Stumptown should thank the parole board for letting him out so he could move to Portland and self-publish this engaging memoir. 1065131 (titled after Breedlove's ID number in prison) is basically everything you wanted to know about life in prison, but were afraid to ask. The memoir, written roughly chronologically with plenty of asides and random insights, feels like a conversation with Breedlove, as he explains the nitty-gritty of prison's cellmates, inside jokes, food, sexuality, and high school-like cliques. It's engrossing, and Breedlove has a keen eye for the humor and irony of prison life, evidenced in the list of names he made up for other guys (hello, Tapeface and Pedasaurus Rex!) and photocopies of the time he vainly petitioned the bureaucracy for a single Pop-Tart.
Breedlove saved cash to publish his life story by working as the caretaker of his ailing great aunt, but the work is a refreshing departure from the typical arc of drug-addict-turned-do-gooder memoirs. What's unique here is Breedlove's honesty about sometimes missing the routine and friendship found in prison. "Absent from the drugs/alcohol and the comforts of prison, I strive to find who I am in what seems a lonely city," he writes. Support your local ex-con and pick up a copy.
by Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow
Radical researchers Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow use food as a framework for digging into the CIA's mountains of recently declassified files in Edible Secrets, printed this winter by Portland-based Microcosm Publishing. The idea behind the book is solid: There are millions of pages of declassified government secrets, too many to ever personally consume, so Hoerger and Partlow picked through certain high-profile files, pulling together cases involving food into a focused look at the files. From the government's repeated attempts to poison Fidel Castro's milkshake to Black Panther Fred Hampton's prison sentence for stealing ice cream, the sips of the CIA's secrets leave the reader realizing the enormous amount of activities the feds keep under wraps. Though beautifully illustrated by Nate Powell and filled with original graphics, Edible Secrets is drier than I expected. Rather than casting a wide net and poking fun at the spooks' intelligence flops, Hoerger and Partlow cover only eight incidents in American history, but laden those stories with in-depth details frosted with a thick helping of context and criticism.
What Was the Hipster?
edited by Mark Greif, Kathleen Ross, Dayna Tortorici
I'll admit I was rolling my eyes as I picked up What Was the Hipster?, which had a small run of 4,000 copies from New York literary mag n+1 and will be reprinted this month. It seems to be the most navel-gaze topic in existence: Jeeesus Christ, who could stomach 183 pages of DUMBO literati dissecting the death of an irrelevant trend? Editor Mark Greif won me over a bit in the introduction, writing, "The study of the hipster, as opposed to the punk, hippie, raver, goth, cyber-utopian, or b-boy, has not yet drawn its scholars." Okay, I'll swallow that: If it's worth analyzing the social origins and impacts of punks, maybe it's worth analyzing the same issues for hipsters. In the book, which is mainly transcripts from a panel discussion n+1 organized in 2009, n+1 at least presents a workable definition of "hipster" (a derogatory term that's usually so loosely applied that it essentially means "anyone hip except me") as a middle-class white person who sees their struggles for pleasure as daring and confrontational. But the book never really seems certain in whether it is itself sincere or just a meta-tongue-in-cheek joke. If it is actually a real "investigation" of hipsters, the book is sorely lacking any sort of analysis save abstract discussion. Where are the graphs of income and consumer spending among the youth of today? Where are the charts of gentrification? In the introduction, Greif laments the lack of professional social scientists in a book that's meant to be a guide for future generations—but with just the critics chiming in, the discussion is pointless.