Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors​

Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country: Traveling Through the Land of My Ancestors
Louise Erdrich
HarperPerennial (2014)
160 pages; $14.99

Reviewed by Victoria Blanco

Louise Erdrich’s Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country, first published in 2003 and reprinted in 2014 with a new cover designed by her daughter Aza Erdrich, mixes memoir, science writing, history, travelogue, and drawings to create a narrative that wanders and meditates with eloquent simplicity. The book begins with one particular connection that ends up leading Erdrich and her readers on an exploration: “My travels have become so focused on books and islands that the two have merged for me. Books, islands. Islands, books.” Erdrich writes and collects books, and islands are “incidental,” a “consequence of getting mixed up with people who live on lakes.”

When we meet Erdrch, she is forty-seven and has recently given birth to her daughter Kiizhikok. The father is an Ojibwe man living in southern Ontario, lake country. Seeking and receiving—or agency and fate—are at the heart of this narrative. But the book is not interested in exploring tension between the two; rather, it is a celebration of everything in life, both what is sought and what is given to us. We accompany Erdrich on a trip to southern Ontario to visit Kiizhikok’s father, explore islands, and see cave drawings by her Ojibwe ancestors. What Erdrich is given—stories and drawings by her ancestors, books, Kiizhikok—become gifts that she carries back to readers.

This is a joyful book, but it is also an inquisitive one. The book persistently asks “Books. Why?” The books are ongoing conversations; Erdrich takes them, along with Kiizhikok, as travel companions. “We have a lot of books in our house … The quantities and types of books are fluid, arriving like hysterical cousins in overnight shipping envelopes only to languish near the overflowing mail bench.” Islands are similarly all encompassing; islands contain stories and entire worlds. “So these islands, which I’m longing to read, are books in themselves.” Answers to her driving question shift; islands and books are simultaneously familiar and mysterious.

One of the narrative’s most touching elements is the presence of Kiizhikok, who provides stability and warmth. As Erdrich explores cave drawings by her Obijwe ancestors, Kiizhikok keeps the meditations from becoming too heady and steeped in what happened long, long ago. Kiizhikok wants to nurse. Now. At the most inconvenient times: in boats, late at night, at the beach, during a road trip. Erdrich buys her daughter plastic, noisy toys and they eat onion rings in a diner. It is clear Kiizhikok lightens Erdrich. She writes: “As I’m drifting away, I feel sorry for anyone else who is not falling asleep this way, holding onto her baby’s foot. The world is calm and clear. I wish for nothing. I am not nervous about the future. Her toes curl around my fingers. I could even stop writing books.” Here, action and stasis are in harmony. So peaceful is the gift of Kiizhikok that Erdrich can even contemplate giving up her own writing, an act by which she lives.

If we know a person by what they love, then we know Erdrich through her observations and meditations on books, islands, cave paintings, nature, and her baby. Books & Islands in Ojibwe Country invites us on Erdrich’s personal journey, but it also asks us to examine and make meaning in our own lives.

Victoria Blanco is an MFA candidate in Creative Nonfiction at the University of Minnesota.

The Wax Bullet War: Chronicles of a Soldier & Artist

The Wax Bullet War: Chronicles of a Soldier & Artist
Sean Davis
Ooligan Press (2014)
288 pages; $16.95

Reviewed by Autumn Fabricant

Sean Davis’s The Wax Bullet War gives readers an intimate look into the life of an American soldier during the Iraq War. His raw depiction of his experience puts the war in the forefront of the reader’s mind and counters the state of cultural affairs Davis observes while watching the news in his hospital room after returning from combat: “The war and its casualties had become a footnote to pop culture.”

The book is divided into short, vivid chapters. Chapter titles such as “Be Polite, Be Professional, and Be Prepared to Kill Everyone You Meet” foreshadow the coming events and add a frank humor about them. The use of language in the book is straightforward and candid. Davis sets the tone in the preface, writing, “In all, four men in my company were killed during our tour in Iraq: Eric McKinley, Kenny Leisten, Ben Isenberg, and Dave Weisenburg. I hope to hell this book honors these men.”

The memoir starts off with a theory of life from Davis’s friend Simon, who is later killed in combat: “Every action was made to fill one hole or another.” In joining the military, in writing this book, and in honoring his fellow soldiers, Davis is still trying to fill the holes that are left.

Throughout the book, Davis feels himself pulled between his artist-self and his soldier-self. “I had split myself in two, the artist and the soldier, and the soldier didn’t like the artist.” Davis grew up in a poor logging town and used art and literature as ways to mentally escape his reality. Then he enlisted in the Army to physically escape from his hometown. He served his time.

On September 11, 2001, Davis was working a government job after quitting art school and having a bad breakup. The military offered a way of life that made sense again, and Davis reenlisted the next day to the National Guard. He did not expect to be sent to Iraq.

However, before they even leave for Iraq, Davis begins to question aspects of how the war is being managed: “the closer we got to war, it seemed, the weirder shit got.” Take one absurdity: when they first arrived on base, instead of using real ammunition for target practice, which was deemed too dangerous, they had to use wax bullets. “It only took ten minutes of sitting in 110-degree heat with an ammo can of wax bullets to figure out this was a bad idea.”

In first thirty days at war, they were sent on over thirty combat missions. They were the only infantry unit on base and were therefore overextended. Missions took their unit to the Baghdad Zoo, to people’s homes, to a Garbage City that was reminiscent of something out of Mad Max, to a deserted prison, to the old Iraqi Olympic training grounds, and to an empty factory on an island in the middle of the Tigris River that supposedly created vehicle-borne IEDs. Mortar attacks and being shot at became a part of every day life. Davis states, “The difficult missions and continuous operations for months on end somehow gave me a kind of apathy when it came to death.”

Davis repeatedly reminds the reader how this is not your grandfather’s war. “I spent more time saving children and deciding who not to shoot than shooting and getting shot at.” Davis depicts the images of war masterfully and grapples with difficult questions, “Were these ‘terrorists’ just fatherless sons wanting revenge? Now that we had taken them into custody, would others avenge their arrest? Were there any real political motives behind their actions? Or did they just bomb us because we bombed them?”

His portrayal of coming home injured after his Humvee is blown up on an ill-conceived mission and suffering PTSD is equally vivid. Davis writes, “Frustration, anger, and depression came at random times and for little reason.” After breaking off ties with his army friends, his ex-girlfriend, and his family, he turns to one of his alternative artist friends and rents out his dingy basement. There, he has suicidal thoughts and often self-medicates with a combination of painkillers, sleeping pills, alcohol, and recreational drugs. After being proclaimed fit for duty and receiving an unexpected promotion, Davis slowly begins to piece his life back together and seeks help at a VA hospital outpatient office.

In the final chapter, Davis writes, “Too many of us come back empty inside, with a need to self-destruct … If more people could see that the men and women who fought this war weren’t invincible heroes but real people with fears, faults, and hopes, then they might understand the problems those service member have after coming back.” With military personnel making up less than one percent of the total U.S. population, the true gift of The Wax Bullet War is the view it offers into the mind of a soldier before, during, and after a controversial war that caused at least one soldier to question what he was risking his life for.

Autumn Fabricant is an educator who develops programs that expose at-risk youth to creative writing and literature.

Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn

Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn: A Father, a Daughter, the Meaning of Nothing, and the Beginning of Everything

Amanda Gefter
Bantam (2014)
432 pages; $28

Review by Amber D. Stoner

A father’s question to his fifteen-year-old daughter starts it all. The question: “How would you define nothing?” The “all”: a journey to find ultimate reality. Amanda Gefter was that fifteen-year-old, and her first book, Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn, which recounts her journey, reads like a mystery as she and her father pour over physics books and meet with the world’s foremost physicists.

Gefter has written a popular physics book within a memoir. The combo works well. The frame of memoir gives us frequent respite from the theoretical physics. Just as we are near the event horizon of a black hole, we get a return to the physical world, conversations with her father, and some funny bits about rats in her London flat. There is a greater sense of adventure here than in other popular physics books, as Gefter takes us along through her years of her personal hunt for why there is something rather than nothing. Her sustained enthusiasm carries the reader through the book. She is curious, bold, highly intelligent, and persistent. She is immersed in her topic and consistently asks insightful questions rather than being a passive recipient of what physicists say.

In college, Gefter focuses on philosophy and creative writing. “I was interested in how one can take these ideas and weave them into story, how to use narrative to bring meaning to the universe,” Gefter writes. Shortly after college, she finagles press badges for her and her father to attend the Science and the Ultimate Reality symposium, where they are excited for the opportunity to talk to John Wheeler, who coined the term “black hole.” His cryptic responses to their questions keep them searching for meaning for years. After the symposium, Gefter realizes that the access granted by being a journalist is just the ticket for studying physics without being a physicist. She can explore all her questions by being both inside and outside the physics community.

Gefter relates a story about Einstein’s fascination with a compass he received from his father, while Gefter received the idea of “nothing” from her dad. “My father, too, had offered me my first clue that reality is not what it seems. Only in my case the clue wasn’t an object but an idea, and instead of turning out to be Einstein I grew up to be a counterfeit journalist with more questions than answers. Still, it occurred to me now that the best gift a parent can give a child is a mystery.” Gefter and her father share information, science papers, ideas, and questions. Black and white pictures throughout the book are fun, personal candids that further reveal their close relationship. Few other personal relationships make it in the book, though her mother provides some refreshing practicality. She mentions a brother, but amid all the physics, the lack of intimates is odd for a memoir.

Gefter covers a heap of physics, including relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, black holes, and string theory. She inevitably ventures into philosophy as well. She provides excellent explanations of the physics with clarifying metaphors. Some of the most entertaining passages in Trespassing are the interactions of the physicists with one another and with Gefter. She moderates a debate between Leonard Susskind, one of the originators of string theory, and David Gross, a Nobel Prize winner. Another gathering of physicists devolves into outrage, confusion, and shouting about a new idea and the questions and the answers that spawn more questions. They keep coming up with more stuff to fix what they previously came up with. It’s fun to read.

The only equation that makes it in the book is E=mc2. It’s clean, simple, known, and easy to read. Physics equations are a sea of symbols and differential equations that basically form a language unto itself, but what is lost without the equations? Without them, it can sometimes seem to the reader like the physicists are just making stuff up rather than following the process of science. Physics is not all thought experiments; there are hours of calculations and missteps that we don’t see here, except briefly: “after two years of calculations Hawking arrived at a shocking conclusion.” Two years receives no commentary from Gefter, who moves quickly to the conclusion, thereby inviting the reader to make the very mistake she criticizes: “The key is to not mistake description for reality.”

After establishing her definition of reality as what’s invariant (that which isn’t observer-dependent), Gefter and her father jot down a list of the possible ingredients of ultimate reality on an IHOP napkin: space, time, gravity, light, and others. They work through the list, crossing off those that don’t make the cut. The list shrinks and shrinks until there’s nothing left. Hence, at the end of their journey, Gefter proposes that we live in a radically relational world where everything is observer-dependent.

As a memoir, Trespassing is short on introspection and, after the story is neatly wrapped up, doesn’t reveal what a radically relational world finally means to Gefter. Where is a little bit of the messiness of life and relationships? She alludes to the tragic history of Los Alamos briefly during their road trip, but little elsewhere. Physics doesn’t ponder questions of how to live life daily or how to treat other people, but in a book presented as memoir and physics, Gefter could reflect on the contrast and frequent incompatibility of contemplating the big questions of physics amidst daily life’s joys and struggles.

“Electrons are little stories we tell ourselves. Of course, we need stories … Structure alone doesn’t quench our existential thirst. We want meaning. And for our brains, meaning comes in the form of stories.” As a popular physics book, Gefter provides an exceedingly fun story that is thought provoking and large in scope and scale. Take some space and time to read it.

Amber D. Stoner is a writer and editor living in Minnesota. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction,, and the Eden Prairie News. She blogs at

Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry

Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry

Edited by Dorothea Lasky, Dominic Luxford, and Jesse Nathan
The Poetry Foundation and McSweeney’s (2013)
400 pages; $21

Reviewed by Kristin Fitzsimmons

Poetry sometimes occupies such a small space in the world in part because of how we’re introduced to it. Very young children come to poetry through song and nursery rhyme—many of us still know these by heart. Something happens by the time we become teenagers and young adults. For many of us, poetry becomes a list of terms—iambic pentameter, alliteration, rhyme scheme, BORING. This idea of poetry sticks with us throughout adulthood, and many who love reading and writing do not extend this love to poetry because it remains boring, confusing, or intimidating. Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry reaches out to educators so that they might instill a love of poetry in children at an early age and thus not fall prey to Adult Poetry Apathy and Hater Disorder. By giving children permission to experiment and play with poetry instead of analyzing, knowing that the analysis will come, poetry becomes something one can infuse into food, exercise, and history class, to name a few examples given in Open the Door.

Open the Door is not a book most people would read from cover-to-cover unless they were, like yours truly, reviewing it. This is because Open the Door is a collection of inspiration, information, and encouragement intended for those teaching poetry to children. It’s divided into three sections: Essays, Roundtable Discussion, and Lesson Plans. Explicitly, the intended audience is poets who teach, educators who want to teach poetry, and those who’d like to set up community poetry programs. However, this book could work just as well for those teaching poetry to adults. Beginning writers will benefit by examining the example poems by published writers suggested in the Lesson Plan section, while more experienced writers will be challenged by the unconventional writing exercises.

The essays in the first section follow two main thematic roads: 1) first-person narratives of writers who’ve had good experiences being teaching artists in public schools; and 2) helpful tips for how to engage children with poetry and arguments on why you should. Many of the first-person narratives call on Kenneth Koch’s experience of teaching at PS 61 in 1968, and an excerpt Koch’s book, Wishes, Lies and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry is also included. Koch offers useful example exercises and advice for teaching poetry to children, the best of which is, “Teaching really is not the right word for what takes place: it is more like permitting the children to discover something they already have.” If you treat children like poets, Koch says, they will be.

The other essays in this section are equally uplifting—they include moments of questioning and insecurity, but never complete and utter failure. Even though horror stories can be entertaining and/or allow fellow teachers to commiserate, Open the Door’s straightforward language and optimism reflect the way many teaching artists prefer to teach poetry: with positive reinforcement.

The Roundtable Discussion is a gathering of responses to questions sent to leaders of eighteen U.S. organizations that “offer meaningful guidance, opportunities, and instruction at the intersection of poetry and kids.” The questions range from asking about the benefits of teaching poetry to children, to questions about how writers and teachers can bring poetry into their classrooms or start their own nonprofit poetry programs. Sandwiched between inspirational essays and unique lesson plans, this section was my least favorite, as I’d already been convinced (well, I came to the book convinced) that children are worthy of poetry and vice versa. Part Two will most interest those who want to start their own nonprofit poetry organizations.

Part Three is a collection of lesson plans from various poets of note, including, to name just two, Yusef Komunyakaa and Dara Wier. As an instructor and writer, I found this section the most useful. The lesson plans are, for the most part, ones I’d never heard of. Many of them focus on shrinking the world, having kids focus on an image or a title; there were also more visceral exercises such as Vicki Vértiz’s “Eating Couplets and Haiku,” in which children bring in their favorite foods and after sampling, write down their observations. Each lesson plan comes with objectives and suggested readings, as well as the resources and time needed.

As I am not a public school teacher, I don’t know how feasible all of the exercises are in the classroom. I do know, as most of us do, that schoolteachers are overworked and underpaid. More simply, anyone who’s been busy in a job knows that integrating new curricula or just change in general can be exhausting. This book will appeal to teachers who want to engage their students with poetry and are looking for a curriculum that is challenging and new, but not necessarily easy. For example, CAConrad’s lesson plan, “(Soma)tic Poetry Exercises,” challenges the notion that is a thing to be done sitting at a desk with a pencil. For example, in his exercise “Human Hibernaculum,” meant for groups of five to six students,

Students stand in a circle with their backs to the center. The last student [sits] in the middle to take notes. With the right hand, each student should find the carotid artery in the neck of the person to the left; everyone should feel a pulse and have his or her pulse being felt. Tell the students to hum, deep and low, from time to time to connect to one another. This rope of blood pulsing in a circle over the seated person who is taking notes shifts every five minutes as each person takes a turn sitting in the center and writes.

This exercise involves the body, which for almost all of us is a vulnerable place. It’s what makes these exercises so good, it’s also what makes them scary. Sometimes as teachers, we have to remind ourselves that challenging our students inevitably means challenging ourselves.

The afterword of Open the Door, “A Call to Action,” acknowledges that these are only a few ways to teach and understand poetry when working with children. The afterword calls on readers to take these starting points and run with them. It echoes a line from the first essay in section one, “The Read-Aloud Handbook,” by Jim Trelease, who ends his piece:

If we wish children to believe poetry is important, the worst way to teach it is to develop a two-week poetry block, teach it, and then forget it-because that’s what children will do with it. The best way is to incorporate meaningful poetry throughout the day.

This attitude reflects that poetry is both special and integral to our daily lives and the lives of children. Open the Door assumes some knowledge of poetic/grammatical terms, but is extremely accessible to any teacher. It’s also accessible in another way: it’s free online from The Poetry Foundation. In a world where poetry is often accused of beinginaccessible, the editors of Open the Door have started the process of loosening the imaginary tie of poetry and starting a dance party we can grow into.

Kristin Fitzsimmons is the author of a chapbook, all these empty bone bowls (dancing girl press, 2013) and a co-host of the web series What Did You Look Up on Wikipedia?

Ipad Art

The Photography of Nature

Joan Fontcuberta
Mapp Editions (2013)
iBook; £12.99


JoAnn Verburg
iPad application; free

The Interaction of Color

Josef Albers
Yale University Press (2013)
iPad application; $9.99

Reviewed by Stephanie L. Rogers

The art I appreciate most tends to be disseminated far beyond the whitewashed walls of galleries and museums. The softest spot in my art-appreciating little heart is currently reserved for artists’ newspapers, the ephemeral platform that perfectly marries high art with low materials. I was, therefore, intrigued by the notion of artists’ books for iPads.

One of the sexiest things about artists’ books—and here I paraphrase artist Ruben Nusz, who did not use the word “sexiest” when we talked about the idea—is that they are not a reproduction of a work of art, like a catalog is; the artist’s book is the work itself.

iPads are not, in my estimation, all that sexy. Being from Apple, they are, of course, well designed; but their built-in obsolescence and high price point put them out of reach to many people (myself included). Writing this review provided me occasion to borrow an iPad and downloaded three well-received artists’ books to see what I think of the iPad as a platform for art.

The Photography of Nature,by Joan Fontcuberta, is the only book reviewed here that is an iBook, not an app in itself. This format makes it easy to skip from chapter to chapter and enlarge photos, but the interactivity pretty much ends there, leaving one with a digitally converted hardcopy.

The book is organized around projects from throughout Fontcuberta’s career, with a chapter and distinct design style dedicated to each body of work. Readers are introduced to “Fauna,”from 1987, which presents the lost findings, field notes, and photographs of Dr. Ameisenhaufen, including beautiful but unlikely silver prints of a snake with twelve legs. Fontcuberta’s interest is in the relationship between science and photography, rather than in a particular style. For example, the design of the chapter “Sputnik”gives a nod to Soviet graphic design, while telling the bizarre history of Russian astronaut Ivan Istochinikov and cosmodog Kloka, who mysteriously disappeared during a space mission. It quickly becomes obvious that the scientific evidence documented in the projects is made up. The point of this work is just how convincing it is even when obviously false.

Book form, iPad or not, makes perfect sense. Fontcuberta’s photography is only part of the fiction; the graphic design adds at least as much to the sense of an authoritative source. The form is compelling, never more so than in “Sirens,”the chapter documenting Fontcuberta’s assignment from National Geologic to photograph the unearthing of mermaid skeletons.

Even though I knew I was experiencing the work of a trickster, the sleight of hand is so effective that as my eyes skimmed National Geologic my brain filled in National Geographic. The style of the photos, the layout of the text, even the font so closely mimic the look of the real magazine that I realized my mistake only upon seeing the cover image at the end of the chapter, with the title text writ large.

Fontcuberta’s work is well executed and earned him the Hasselblad Award, which the Hasselblad Foundation asserts is “the most important prize in photography in the world today.” I assert that Fontcuberta’s work, while capable and witty, is notthe most important photography in the world today. This format, which places photographs in the familiar contexts of magazines, books, and natural history museum displays, is perfectly suited to our day and age, but the idea that photographs lie is as old as photography itself.

Two photo critics, Geoffrey Batchen and Jorge Wagenberg, write accompanying essays in the section of the book called “The Nature of Photography.”I Googled them to make sure that their explications of Fontcuberta’s greatness were not just another sleight of hand by the photographer, who touts his prowess in the text he did write himself. They are, in fact, real scholars. Yet even in praising the work, Batchen reminds readers of the myriad others who have walked this same road: “[Early photography pioneer William Henry Fox] Talbot recognizes from the outset what Fontcuberta has spent a lifetime exploiting: that while photography always provides an indexical truth-to-presence, it doesn’t necessarily offer a truth-to-appearance.” Batchen later credits Edward Steichen with making a similar argument in the first issue of Camera Work in 1903.

It has been trendy for a while now to point out the deception of photographs, but this breaks no ground that wasn’t broken in the earliest days of photographic mediums. Fontcuberta does this work expertly but manages to merely remind viewers of something they already knew.

AS IT IS AGAIN—released (published?) in 2011—is one of the earliest examples of an artist-designed, iPad-specific work. As Verburg told interviewer Paul Schmelzer, “as far as we know, this is the first fine art photography book made specifically to be experienced on an iPad.”

The only text in the app is the title at the beginning and the credits at the end, putting full emphasis and attention on Verburg’s photographs, all taken in the hills next to a Roman aqueduct outside of Spoleto, Italy. The images were made with a 5x7 view camera, which features a lens that moves independently of the film plane—the technical capability that creates the titled focal planes in many of Verburg’s images. For the lay reader, this is what makes possible the washes of out-of-focus colors that connect the sharp forms of both twigs in the foreground and the ancient aqueduct spanning the background.

As the title suggests, the images are a meditation on the cyclical nature of shifting seasons contrasted against the timelessness of Roman-era infrastructure. And I do mean meditation. Soft colors and those dreamy out-of-focus spaces create a quiet feeling of place rather than a faithful representation.

My previous experiences with Verburg’s photography were in museums, with the full-scale experience of her larger-than-life prints. I found myself holding the iPad close to my nose, the better to examine each twig in the photo, before pulling the image back to appreciate the composition as a whole.

Most of the images are vertical and fit neatly into the 4:3 ratio of the full-sized iPad (this app doesn’t adjust for horizontal orientation). But partway through, horizontal images are introduced. They are larger and don’t fit on the screen, and are presented across several “pages.” The unique quality of the iPad is that, even though these images are split among several frames, the frames are continuous. By keeping a finger on the screen to prevent it from snapping to the predetermined frames, the spaces between frames are viewable, letting readers examine every blossom on the almond trees in the foreground—even the ones on the edge of the “pages.” This capability is a seemingly minor thing that would never be possible in a print book. It’s as if Verburg knew that I had been bringing the iPad in for the close-up detail view, and gave me the best solution possible in this format.

Presented as pixels on a backlit screen, Verburg’s images are, quite literally, luminous. Given the usually large scale of Verburg’s prints, I’m surprised at how well the images work on the iPad, but work they do. Interaction with the images consists of swiping forward or back to transition to the next frame. It’s simple but feels seductive. iPad apps are ideal for people who always wanted to touch the art. I have little critique about the clean way in which this one is set up. Verburg has set the standard by which newer iPad-specific artist’s books will be judged—and I have no doubt that there will be more of them.

The app for Josef Albers’s The Interaction of Color is a re-visioning of a fifty-year-old tome of the same name that (as a paperback) has been continuously in print since 1971. You know Albers for his square silkscreens with subtly shifting shades of ochre, red, and dozens of other hues. What you might not know is that if you’ve taken a color theory class in the last three decades, it was built on the ideas, exercises, and structure of this book. Yale University Press, the original publisher, has now interpreted Albers’s ideas and brought The Interaction of Color to the iPad.

The app has two parts. First, the original text now helpfully includes linked definitions of key words. Second, the exercises Albers designed to be done with colored paper are recreated as interactive studies featuring both Albers’s examples and a white screen of blank shapes ready to be filled with selections from a well-designed color wheel. The interface is intuitive enough for a small child, but the infinite solutions to the exercises will engage even the most experienced designer. It’s easy to jump back and forth between the textual description of color phenomena and related visual examples in the exercises.

Playing with the color wheel (and it does feel like playing) brings me back to the color design class I took my freshman year of college. The basic building blocks of art and design are all expertly and engagingly presented: color selection, the illusion of space, atmosphere as suggested by hue and tone … I could go on.

I get the impression that Albers used colored paper in his own classes only because the iPad wasn’t available yet. He writes, “Precision and clean execution are required for all finished studies.” The X-acto™ knives and rubber cement I wielded for my own color design credit pale in comparison to the exactness possible when the colors magically conform to precise predetermined shapes. No one’s learning fine motor skills or composition here, but it’s a pretty slick way to learn color. Rather than just a more portable version of the original text, the iPad app comes off as an improvement.

There is a free version of the app that is so limited as to be almost pointless, except as a marketing strategy. However, the easiest way to get the full version is to download the free version first. Once it’s loaded, the full version is easily purchased via handy links within in the free version. The full version is a masterful recreation of a canonical work in art education, and well worth the download.

In 2010, Slate published an article by Jim Lewis that was subtitled “Why art books won’t become e-books any time soon.” The claim shows either a lack of imagination or a very narrow definition of art. New media is decades old, and new media artists’ books aren’t much of a stretch. Lewis’s main argument hinges on resolution; the article pits high-quality printing (600 dpi) against the iPad’s screen (then 132 ppi, now 264 ppi). Lewis is missing the point. E-books are not inherently better or worse than their paper counterparts, but artist intent has a lot to do with user experience.

The apps for AS IT IS AGAIN and The Interaction of Color work well because they were designed for the format. Obviously, viewing Verburg’s images on an iPad is a very different experience from viewing her five-foot prints made from 5x7 negatives. The prints’ resolution is clearly superior. The iPad has other strengths: the glowing screen, the interactivity, and a multitude of carefully sequenced images whose resolution is sufficient. Like any good artist’s book, the sum of the whole is greater than its individual images.

I was pleasantly surprised to find many of the qualities that endear artists’ newspapers to me (portability, accessibility, and even low cost) are present in the iPad. While tablet computers remain an unreachable luxury for many Americans, for the voracious reader of artists’ books, the upfront cost could be recouped quickly. The Photography of Nature iBook is a third the cost of the hard copy; AS IT IS AGAIN is unbeatably free. Only The Interaction of Color breaks the template, with a paperback version costing only $6 more than the iPad app. To be fair, Yale University Press has made a profit on the hardcopy many times over, but shelled out for high-end designers to create the app. The quality of the design shows. The bottom line: iPads are expensive, but so are most artists’ books.

Where the iPad format really shines is in interaction. It’s a different experience to be touching the screen and having the work respond. The tactility of the page has been replaced by light, color, and motion, which completely sucked me in, even if two more hours of a backlit screen left my eyes a bit strained.

Scott Nedrelow, publisher of Location Books, cited the low overhead cost of producing iPad books as part of the appeal from a publishing viewpoint. This is pretty appealing from an artist’s viewpoint, too. The iPad offers low upfront costs, zero storage issues, and the potential of getting your work in front of people with disposable income. Please excuse me while I go download Book Creator for iPad.

Stephanie L. Rogers is an artist who lives and works in Minneapolis. You can see her work at