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Short Takes: February 2010 

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Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America 1850-1920
Peter C. Muir
University of Illinois Press, 2009, $35

When Mamie Smith’s 1920 hit “Crazy Blues,” commonly cited as the first blues recording, kicked the music into the charts, the word “blues” had already appeared in over 450 commercially released titles. Muir examines the context and mechanics of these early “popular blues,” a fascinating subgenre of the now-iconic African American folk style. Reading/music performances 2/6 at 7pm, Grace Church, Millbrook; 2/7 at 3pm, Katonah Public Library; 2/11 at 10am, Adriance Memorial Library, Poughkeepsie.

Position & Relation
India Hixon Radfar
Barrytown/Station Hill, 2009, $15.95

Radfar wrote these diverse poem cycles— “Twelve Poems That Were Never Written,” “Natural Megaron” (honoring Sappho), “Preposition Poems” (written without prepositions), and the typographically adventurous “Lung Poems”—while living in Woodstock, and the loose-lined, open-hearted poems seem to breathe mountain air. Appearing with Basil King at Cadmium Text 2/12 at 2pm, R&F Gallery, Kingston.

Folk Photography: The American Real-Photo Postcard 1905-1930

Luc Sante
Yeti Press, 2009, $24.95

Real-photo postcards were made in dark rooms by marketeering amateur photographers a century ago, and were once a trendy mode of communication in rural America. In his latest book, Bard professor Luc Sante presents a sampling of his own “RPPC” collection, and an essay that historicizes this demotic genre, whose unsmiling subjects derive from a time before the blending of self-awareness and photography.

How To Be Inappropriate
Daniel Nester
Soft Skull Press, 2009, $14.95

If the flipped-finger cover art doesn’t make you laugh, you are definitely not the right reader for this portrait of the artist as a compulsive rule-breaker. “I tell these stories to explain why people stop liking me,” Nester writes, before launching into dryly hilarious disquisitions on such cultural phenomena as mooning, indoor tanning, Gene Simmons, and a personal timeline of inappropriate behavior.

Silent Screams
C.E. Lawrence
Pinnacle Books, 2009, $6.99

There’s a dead woman in the very first sentence, naked and draped over a church altar with part of the Lord’s Prayer carved onto her body. Also on the scene: a sensitive criminal profiler, a cigar-chomping detective, and a querulous priest. Lawrence’s fresh take on the twisted-serial-killer genre is a high-octane, compulsively-readable thriller that gets New York right.

Jam & the Box/The Fluffys & the Box
Robert B. Wyatt
A Wyatt Book, 2009, $13/$10

Publishing maven and erstwhile bookseller Wyatt makes a delightful fiction debut with these paired shaggy-cat stories of a newly widowed man’s unconventional road to recovery. It takes a village, they say, and Highkill, NY (a perfect-pitch Woodstock in mufti), is a grand place to disprove Fitzgerald’s maxim that there are no second acts in American life.

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