Thursday, December 11, 2008

Small towns--on the winter reading list

A segment on NPR's Morning Edition today reported on popular books this season, and it noted that several are set in small towns. Among them are P.F. Kluge's Gone Tomorrow, Chuck Klosterman's Downtown Owl, Hillary Jordan's Mudbound, and The Oxford Project. I'm most curious about the The Oxford Project, which features two series of photos, taken 20 years apart, of individual residents of Oxford, Iowa, population 705.
The Oxford Project, photographs by Peter Feldstein, text by Stephen G. Bloom, hardcover, 264 pages, Welcome Books. List price: $50
In 1984, Peter Feldstein photographed 670 of the 676 residents of Oxford, Iowa. Twenty years later he photographed them again. From the flashing images of Hunter Tandy at 9 and 30 years old on its holographic cover to the photographer's self-portrait on the last page, each picture is worth a thousand words, and each pair of portraits is fair trade for an entire novel. Buckskinners-turned-evangelicals, old hippies, children, bikers, farmers, waitresses, widows, euchre-players, orphans and truck drivers — each photographed in black-and white, simply standing in front of a sheet of canvas or a concrete wall, the page accompanied by the words they offer up in front of the camera. The real story unfolds in the sag or thrust of a shoulder, the glimmer in the eyes, the jut of a hip or the wear of a pair of shoes. At 5 and 24, 15 and 45, at 50 and 70 — each set of portraits asks, who will you be in 20 years? Who were you 20 years ago? And what would those two of you think of one another?
Happy reading.

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