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The Season: Local literature

By PHILIP EIL  |  December 11, 2013

The Art of Critical Making: Rhode Island School of Design on Creative Practice  | Edited by Rosanne Somerson and Mara L. Hermano | Wiley | $29.95

What is “critical making,” exactly? A professor, provost, or president on Benefit Street might say that those two words are what give RISD its RISD-ness.

Or they might just point you toward an excerpt like this one from graphic design professor Lucinda Hitchcock’s Art of Critical Making chapter.

Typography is about more than just its conventional appearance and choices of font or size or color. Typography is concerned with context, location, surface, user, dimension, and material. So, for example, look around you for some type. Some words — on a sign, a sticker, a poster, this book, anything. Ask yourself: How is it produced? Is it printed with ink, written by hand, or digital? Is it carved in stone or made out of light and pixels? Is the typography (not the words themselves, but the typography) informing, directing, manipulating, or emoting? Is it utilitarian, expensive, formal, or “vernacular”? Does it reveal itself over time or can it be absorbed and comprehended in a single momentary glance? How do you respond to words that are small, printed, and familiar, versus words that are very large, or carved into stone, or in some way monumental? What happens when conventional forms are subverted to convey unconventional messages? We are all used to the little stickers we see on fruit at the grocery store, for example. But what if one day, instead of the usual identification numbers, the bananas you bought had something else stuck to their skins? Little poems perhaps, or texts about child labor stuck in banana plantations?


The Hanging & Redemption of John Gordon: The True Story of Rhode Island’s Last Execution by Paul Caranci | The History Press | $20

The next time you stroll through the bright, carpeted, Muzak-filled confines of the Providence Place Mall, consider this: you’re treading on the site of Rhode Island’s last state-sanctioned execution, the hanging of John Gordon on February 14, 1865.

One hundred and 66 years later, on October 8, 2011, at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Pawtucket, a new headstone was dedicated in Gordon’s honor:


John Gordon

Born in Ireland

Died 2/14/1845 — Providence, RI

This stone placed in his honor by his fellow Irishmen and those who cared to right a wrong done unto him.

“Forgiveness is the ultimate revenge.”


You’ll have to read the book to learn the rest.


Monster 2013 | Edited, compiled, and printed by Paul Lyons and Roby Newton | Hidden Fortress Press | $30

For those of you who don’t know about Providence’s jaw-dropping underground comics scene, Monster — the latest installment in an series launched by members of the bygone Fort Thunder arts collective in Olneyville — is a peep through the keyhole.

But a word of warning: Archie, this it ain’t. There blood here. And masturbation in supermarkets. And a robot named Cosmic Poseidon that rises out of the sea to ransack a city while shooting sharks from his eyes. And a guy who finds a severed boar’s head covered with maggots on his front porch. And the line “OVER SEXED LADY PARTS CRAWLING WITH SPIDERS. SWEATY BOYS WOKE TO THE SMELL OF MARLBORO LIGHTS AND TIC TACS IN THE AIR. THE SMELL OF FEAR.”

We’ll stop describing and simply direct you the Hidden Fortress Press online store at

You won’t find this baby at Barnes & Noble.


From Harvard to Hell. . . And Back: A Doctor’s Journey Through Addiction to Recovery by Sylvester “Skip” Sviokla | Cebntral Recovery Press | $16.95

Dr. Skip Sviokla is an addiction medicine specialist practicing in Warwick.

Dr. Skip Sviokla was a once “house physician” to rock stars in California.

Dr. Skip Sviokla once had a habit of to swallowing as many as 150 Vicodin per day.

Dr. Skip Sviokla has now written a book, telling these stories.


The TAB Guide to DIY Welding: Hands-On Projects for Hobbyists, Handymen, & Artists by Jackson Morley | McGraw-Hill | $25

Sure, this is a book about learning to make barbecues, candelabras, and other melted-metal curiosities (not to mention learning how not to act a fool while wielding a 10,000° F flame).

But it’s also an homage to the “creative-minded metal shops and organizations from almost every corner of the United States” that give folks a safe place to do this stuff. In Morley’s case, getting involved in the Steel Yard, the Providence community arts center that serves as a setting for many of book’s photos, was “one of the best things I’ve ever done.” After reading this book, it’s tough to argue.

Two words: plasma cutter.


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