book reviews

Nature Field Guides
Reviewed by: T.J. Nelson

Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America
by Julian Montague
Abrams Image, 2006
score+2

W ell, everyone has to have a hobby. Julian Montague's is taking pictures of old shopping carts. This book consists mainly of visually appealing pictures of carts in their natural habitats: drainage ditches, among the bushes, or graffiti-filled low rent districts around Buffalo, N.Y.

Montague has devised a unique descriptive taxonomic classification that categorizes carts in terms of their appearance, such as Plow Crushed, Train Damaged, and Bus Stop Discard. (It should be noted, however, that this taxonomic scheme has yet to gain acceptance among cartographers.)

It's an amusing idea. Still, it would have been nice to include some actual information about shopping carts. For example, most people don't know that the Model 586 is one of the largest carts in production, with a capacity of 18,000 cubic inches. It is the true Cadillac among shopping cart connoisseurs worldwide. True shopping cart aficionados will also be dismayed by the fact that there is no mention of Sylvan Nathan Goldman (1898-1984), the inventor of the shopping cart, whose name is revered among all true cartologists.

Academics, too, will be crushed to learn that Montague completely overlooks the brilliant cartographic research of Ida Hartja-Koch of Myrn Bawr College, whose Master's thesis on shopping carts titled "Gender discrimination and shopping cart design: a steel cage of crushing phallocentric oppression by the patriarchal oligarchy" is considered the authoritative work on the sociodynamics of shopping carts. Hartja-Koch considered the shopping cart to be an iconic symbol of imprisonment, a cage aux folles so to speak in which the modern female spirit is imprisoned by bourgeois capitalist technology.

This book is a cute idea that is good for about ten minutes of mild amusement (twenty if you write a book review on it). We will be awaiting impatiently to see if Montague devises a similar classification scheme for telephone poles and trash dumpsters. They will be eagerly anticipated by trashologists everywhere.

Apr 1, 2008

Flattened Fauna
by Roger M.Knutson
Ten Speed, 1987
score+5

I n the style of the immortal cartoon Bambi Meets Godzilla, this short field guide is for animal lovers everywhere whose only contact with the beauty of mother nature is when they ram into it with their front bumper.

This dryly witty book parodies those erudite and fact-filled nature guides we've all fallen asleep over. Let's face it: if we can't laugh at the fact that some innocent, furry little animal has had its guts squashed out all over the road, then we're just not human. And there are many advantages to studying animals in their flattened state. For one, they're much less skittish. And unlike nature photographers, who must use an expensive camera and a telephoto lens, we can use an ordinary photocopier--Knutson uses a Canon NP-350F--which makes it easy to document their shapes. If the next time you come across one, you take the time to get out of the car, draw a chalk mark around it, and use this field guide to try to identify what it was, it will be a small first step toward understanding these amazing creatures. This is where the rubber meets the raccoon.

Feb 17, 2011