by Rebecca Solnit,
photos curated by Susan Schwartzenberg
(Verso) $27

Hollow City is Rebecca Solnit's critique of urban renewal--what she calls the "awful upgrade" taking place in cities as they are flooded with new technology profits. Solnit chooses to render San Francisco's urban development and resultant staggering eviction rate "because," she says, "it so resembles what is happening elsewhere that I believe it can stand alone as an example of a crisis."

What is happening is this: In the 1970s, inner cities were in trouble--empty, impoverished, crime-ridden. Mayors met to discuss their options; deals were cut with chain stores. Then came the dot-com boom. Suddenly, a certain class of people--people who wanted to live in urban areas, with a commercially bohemian aesthetic--had disposable income. Rents increased. Smaller stores were priced out. Lower-income tenants were evicted. Downtowns everywhere began to blur in a disorienting homogeneity--Starbucks, Old Navy, Cineplex Odeon.

The problem can't exactly be described as gentrification, Solnit says, "because the term gentrification traditionally describes the transformation of a neighborhood rather than a whole city or region."

Solnit's main concern in Hollow City is for visual artists, a species she plucks out to serve as canaries in the urban coal mine, indicating by their presence the health of a city's culture. In today's urban climate, Solnit says, the fear of eviction immobilizes artists both literally and creatively; artists have to cater to their markets in order to afford to live there. While Solnit is quick to note that "there are no clear lines to be drawn in the high-speed spin of change," she also warns us that if change occurs too quickly, "a disjuncture between memory and actuality arises and one moves through a city of phantoms, of the disappeared." TRACI VOGEL

by Gary Smith
(Atlantic Monthly Press) $24

Gary Smith's new book, Beyond the Game, brings together a substantial chunk of his award-winning work for Sports Illustrated magazine. Per preface, Smith considers himself an anomaly among sportswriters in that his professional interest in the event proper is tangential at best. "I've always had the feeling that the most compelling and significant story was the one occurring beyond the game," he writes.

What this means, in terms of literary value, is that Smith shoots an end-run around the typical clichés of athletic hoopla, opting instead to depict the aural gestalt informing any given contest. His concern is not with how but why certain people are driven to compete on the field of play, and with the generally unremarked adversity those individuals butt up against in their day-to-day lives. Smith's métier, then, might best be described in a kind of Freudian schematic: In his profiles of famous and not-so-famous jocks, he attempts to reveal the unruly id as it impinges upon the performing ego. When Smith tackles such world-famous figures (and world-class egotists) as Muhammad Ali or Ken Griffey Jr., his writing is sharp, sure, and uncompromising, and he shows a sociologist's talent for analyzing the enigmatic, problematic lure of celebrity. When covering lesser-known athletes, however, Smith can sometimes toot an overly schmaltzy fanfare, as though struggling to gain his readership's star-glazed attention. On the whole, this isn't a huge complaint. Smith's stuff is consistently interesting, entertaining, and quite often inspired. Besides, how many sportswriters out there are in the habit of citing Nietzsche, Chief Plenty Coups, and obscure Spanish monks? RICK LEVIN

by Max
(Drawn & Quarterly) $12

"On March 17th 1993, Christopher D., a married shop assistant of forty, went to bed at about midnight, as usual. When he woke up--at seven in the morning, as usual--he found himself in the intensive care unit of Son Dureta Hospital in Palma, Majorca. Forty days had gone by. In the following weeks Mr. D. filled three notebooks with a detailed description of everything he had dreamt. The following pages are a pictorial transcription of his account."

The comic medium lends itself naturally to dreaming; just the space between one panel and the next is room enough for a hundred years, or all laws of reality, to pass by. The Extended Dream of Mr. D. is the inwardly spiraling narrative of Christopher's discovery of himself. Max works in the elegant, spare tradition of Calvino and Borges, building graceful allegorical dream structures to investigate, each of which yields another dream within.

I have no idea where Max came from; the book has been translated from Spanish, but otherwise there isn't even a last name for a clue. This unknown authorship gives the book that much more power, makes the reader's passage into a dream state that much easier. The artwork is rendered in some scratchy method that makes each panel look like a detail from some huge dream scroll etched a hundred years ago. It's not until the last page is turned that a reader might realize how pale the merely written word has become by comparison. EVAN SULT