The Best of What’s New


In the remote rainforests of former Zaire, far from the man-made conflicts currently plaguing the rest of the region, there exists a matriarchal society where intellectual prowess is valued over brute force, and sex is a tension-relieving tool enjoyed equally — and frequently — by males and females alike. No, this is not an anthropologist’s dream dissertation topic, but a band of bonobos, little-known members of the ape family that are so humanlike, local tribes believe they’re kin. In their beautifully photographed study, Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, photographer Frans Lanting and primatologist Frans de Waal make a compelling argument for why humans stand to learn a lot from observing the bonobos’ “make love, not war” behavior patterns. ! color>Berkeley, Calif.: University Of California Press, 1997 (CJ)

The curious thing about road novels is that they rarely go anywhere — more often, they take you inside the mind of a narrator on the road to self-discovery. Such is the case with Flaming Iguanas, a hilarious semiautobiographical road novel written and illustrated by cartoonist Erika Lopez. The book’s heroine (and Lopez’s alter ego) is Tomato Rodriguez, a half-Puerto Rican, half-homosexual, halfway-to-60 woman who rides her motorcycle “armpit to armpit across the chest of America,” surviving on “the fumes from [her] estrogen.” ! color>New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997 (CJ)

Documenting a day in the life of the average North American consumer, Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things deconstructs the American Dream by unraveling the hidden costs behind the objects around us. From our morning cup of Colombian coffee to our South Korean-made sneakers, the book traces the environmental impact of the consumer decisions most of us make without thinking. Authors John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning of Seattle’s Northwest Environment Watch tell us greenhouse gases produced in making one burger are equivalent to those emitted in a six-mile drive to the burger joint. Only occasionally verging on preachiness, this readable 88-page book is definitely worth the paper it’s printed on. ! For more information, call Northwest Environment Watch at (206) 447-1880. (VA)

In 1991, after a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Atlanta fired Cheryl Summerville for failing to “demonstrate normal heterosexual values,” she called the ACLU to see about launching a lawsuit. What Summerville discovered is that in all but a handful of states, gays have no legal protection from job discrimination. That injustice is at the heart of Out at Work, a documentary by independent filmmakers Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson. in addition to Summerville, who relates her transformation from apolitical lesbian to Queer Nation activist, they also profile two other gay employees struggling for workplace equality. While the filmmakers fail to put these issues within a national context (there is no mention, for example, of the campaign to pass the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act), Out at Work, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, is an excellent critique of one of the last socially sanctioned forms of workplace discrimination. ! For more information, call (415) 703-8650. (JF)

In his latest book, Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels, author, journalist, and Mother Jones co-founder Adam Hochschild collects the best of his published short pieces and takes the reader on 30 years’ worth of journeys — to New York City, to visit a Belgian man who lived with Gypsies for 20 years; to Cape Town, where Hochschild worked for a South African anti-apartheid activist; and even to a tiny town in the French Alps, where he stayed with the reclusive author John Berger. Hochschild bares himself along the way, admitting his love for the exclusive boarding school he attended and for his Russian fighter-pilot uncle whose presence “flamed like a shooting star” against the backdrop of an “irredeemably well-behaved” childhood. ! Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1997 (Eds.)

Political prisoner or cold-blooded murderer? This question hovers over the documentary Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt? as it re-examines the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and black activist who was sentenced to death in 1982 for the murder of a Philadelphia policeman. Featuring first-time interviews with Abu-Jamal from death row and eyewitness accounts not heard in court before, the filmmakers show that the case is riddled with inconsistencies. The film is now out on video with 15 minutes of new footage. ! Fox Lorber Home Video, 1997 (VA)

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