Ellen Lupton, Cara McCarty, Matilda McQuaid, Cynthia Smith (co-curators)
Why Design Now? National Design Triennial (Smithsonian)
Anyone feeling a bit down about the state of things should take a gander at this catalogue for Cooper-Hewitt’s National Design Triennial. Co-curated by MICA’s Ellen Lupton, the exhibition—which closes at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York on January 9, 2011—spotlights interesting and innovative products and proposals aimed at capturing the imaginations of consumers, improving quality of life, and/or solving problems. Yes, you’ll find fairly ubiquitous products such as the iPhone and the Kindle, but the real fun is checking out more unusual and forward-thinking items like the invisible streetlight, modular prosthetic limbs, and solar-powered water purifier. There’s also a cutting-edge communications campaign aimed at empowering adolescent girls (called Girl Effect), and a product line called “Do You Want to Replace the Existing Normal.” By book’s end, you’ll swear the future is as good as it used to be.
What Is All This? (Fantagraphics Books)
Dixon, who recently retired from Hopkins, is a master of the short story, and this handsome volume gathers 26 pieces that hadn’t previously been published in book form. An indispensable addition to a formidable body of work, which also includes 14 novels and a pair of National Book Award nominations, it’s classic Dixon. His prose is so taut it would make Hemingway blush, and Dixon’s brutal honesty figures to redden the faces of some readers. He never shies from exploring common neuroses through characters who can be unsympathetic, or worse, contemptible, but his prodigious skill as a storyteller overrides any unease he generates. Wringing meaning from the mundane, Dixon gets beyond mere personality to the interior lives of the people he fleshes out, warts and all.