Monday, June 03, 2013

Booknote: Occupants

Rollins, Henry. Occupants. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2011.

ISBN: 9781569768150

Genre: Photography and travel
Subgenre: Politics and cultural studies

Note: I borrowed this via Interlibrary Loan at my library. It came from Western Kentucky University. By the way, it is kind of cool to look up a record in WorldCat and find the library your ILL came from.  Anyhow, I do find it neat to track where my ILL's come from, which I always jot down (or try to jot down) in my personal journal. I may start doing that more here. Though I borrowed it, this is a book that, if given the chance and a bit of extra coin, I would add to my collection. Let's go on to the review and notes.

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After listening to Henry Rollins back in April, I knew that I had to seek out some of his writings. This is one of his recent books and since I do enjoy photography books, I figured it would be a pretty accessible way to read his writing and see some good travel photography. Boy was I in for an intense ride. The book presents photos that Mr. Rollins has taken around the world. Rollins is an angry man in a world that offers many reasons to be angry. He is also a man interested in learning and seeing things for himself. Thus, he constantly travels around the world, taking photos, writing, reflecting, and saying things that need to be said, things that may or not be popular.

The photos cover a period from 2003 to 2010 and take us to various places from Kyrgyzstan to Saudi Arabia to Bhopal to Mali and other places in between. Rollins provides commentary and narrative with each photo. Rollins' writing is angry at times, but it is also moving and lyrical at times. We see suffering, but we also see people who are resilient and strive in spite of odds against them. Through Rollins' photos and narrative we come to see the world as it truly is, and it can be a scary place, more so because we see it is people with power, exploiting others, who have made it so. As Rollins writes, "a lot of things I see happening in the world rub me the wrong way. Some of them are in this book" (ix). I know many rubbed me the wrong way as well. If you are a decent human being with some compassion and sense of caring, and you are paying attention, they should rub you the wrong way as well.

Yet through it all, Rollins manages to maintain some optimism even as he seeks to shake his audience out of privileged complacency. He goes on to write at the end of his book's introduction:

"The future of humans on the planet will be determined by the bottom line being realized and acted upon in a way that is beneficial to the species. It can go either way. I am hoping that innovation, science, and decency will triumph over corporate interests, ignorance, and cruelty. I am in it to win, of course" (xii). 

This is a book I highly recommend. Fans of Henry Rollins will definitely want to add it to their collections. Folks who appreciate good photography, travel narratives with some political commentary, and strong writing will like this book. Libraries should definitely be adding this to their collections.

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