Familiar faces 

John Dicker is a sometime critic in Metro Times’ pages, a book reviewer, alt-weekly reporter and the author of this year’s The United States of Wal-Mart (Penguin, $12.95, 256 pp.). As expected, the book is a close look at the controversial company. But rather than some predictable lefty rant against an evil multinational corporation, Dicker uses the crisp conventions of good business reporting to great effect in sizing up the discount giant. Wal-Mart culture is centered upon the P-word — price — as the great driver of consumer decisions.

Dicker is obviously a gifted reporter, but there’s an odd choice of voice for United States, with such up-in-your-grill language as “we’re all Wal-Mart’s bitches” and “a steady diet of whoop-ass.” This effort to give social criticism some streetwise swagger dispels another P-word that has long haunted those who critique power: pantywaist. There’s no “whining” or “complaining” in this tough-talking attitude. But another P-word is nowhere to be found: polemics. By avoiding them, Dicker can pose as a pragmatist.

At its best, this work recalls another great chronicler of American capital, Matthew Josephson, who dissected the 19th century Robber Barons with a similar zeal. But back in the 1920s, a writer like Josephson could freely quote Marx and condemn the depredations of the powerful. Until polemics return to fashion, we may have to settle for the sassy tongue.

Hippie astrologer Rob Brezsny peddles his predictions in this paper, and he too has a new book, entitled Pronoia: How the Whole World is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings (Frog, Ltd., $19, 296 pp.). Those who enjoy Brezsny’s style — personal anecdotes, startling factoids and celebrity guff spun into astrological parables — will certainly find a wealth of kooky spirituality here. Brezsny, a longtime and fully converted Californian, is a source of endless feel-goodism, a booster for the human spirit, and one who has the ripe stink of Bay Area Zen deep in his bones. Though he has a knack for presenting topsy-turvy trivia that cracks the imagination back open, no doubt some will find his windy spirituality as irritating as a fog of incense. Philosophically speaking, his brand of “pronoia” was rightly ridiculed by French satirist Voltaire in the person of Dr. Pangloss, a philosopher who believed “All is for the best in this best of all possible worlds,” which Brezsny reupholsters here as “Life is a sublime game created for our amusement and illumination, and it always gives us exactly what we need, exactly when we need it.” Not only is it preposterous, but, if it’s true, why read horoscopes in the first place?

Deranged comics creator Max Cannon has released a third collection of his weekly comic strip Red Meat in Red Meat Gold (St. Martin’s Griffin, $11.95, 112 pp.). Cannon’s shtick is archetypal ’50s Americana gone horribly wrong. This hilarious book is populated with dead clowns, futuristic milkmen and even a man gnawing on a finger, all with an eagerness to lampoon the white-bread archetypes Cannon favors. Cannon is a master of deadpan presentation, with panels so static and eerily unchanging, they make a Doonesbury strip look like Prince Valiant.

Former Metro Times music writer Melissa Giannini has a zine out called Box (self-published, $5, 34 pp.), which many will regard as a stylish and sincere effort from a well-meaning group of young, creative adults. It’s a music, arts and culture zine, long on music, with pieces on Afro-poppists Nomo, the Moldy Peaches’ Kimya Dawson and a cover story on Detroit electro-punks Adult. You get the sense that Giannini is writing about her friends, giving them a forum to display their photographs and publicize their music.

Visually, Box is a superior effort. One spread features an elegant illustration by our own contributing illustrator Davin Brainard opposite a photo of amusing anti-hipster graffiti. A break dancing guide on how to do the pinwheel is clever, well-designed and guaranteed to make the reader crack a smile, showcasing the design talents of the zine’s art director, Kelli Miller.

The writing, however, is often freighted with enough MFA-damage and precious prose to strain the patience of the most indulgent reader. What makes efforts like Box great is they give budding writers the opportunity to try things out, but not all experiments are equal. You can check the results for yourself by visiting their Web site at boxzine.net.

Send comments to mjackman@metrotimes.com

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