Burning Bookshelf: Books about Burnign Man

Reviews by moontroll

In less three weeks, the Man will burn. Over 45,000 revelers, seekers, artists and freaks will gather around an effigy on a remote, desolate, dry lake bed in a forgotten corner of Nevada to drum, dance with fire and lose their minds to the magic of the moment. The energy of Burning Man 2008 is growing in strength daily, and Burners the world over can feel the pull to the playa.

In 2007, I went to Burning Man with a large group of Bellinghamsters organized under the Boogie Collective umbrella. We built a 40-foot tall Boogie Pyramid, threw all-night dance parties and lived communally beneath a billowing green parachute for ten days. While it has long been obvious that I wouldn't be returning to participate in The Event in the Desert this year, I have to admit that with the arrival of August, Black Rock City's invisible, inevitable gravitational forces are agitating my soul. I have other projects I am dedicated to this year, but that doesn't negate my natural affinity for ritual and release, intentional gatherings, inward reorientation and creative pranksterism.

I might seek for a vicarious Burn instead, browsing the many different books about Burning Man published in recent years.

Jessica Bruder's "Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man" (Simon Spotlight, 2007) is a dizzying piece of artwork, a shuffle-play of favorite Burning Man deliriums throughout the years, designed by the venerable collagist Martin Vensezky. It features photo contributions from hundreds of playa snapshooters and loads of playa ephemera, like reproductions of tickets and maps from past Burns, stickers and buttons from different theme camps and all the little trinkety stuff that are gifted out and circulated throughout Black Rock City.

The trajectory of the book is shaped to represent the journey to and through Black Rock City, and thus early chapters include drives through Gerlach and the first burns in San Francisco before introducing you to playa legends like Thunderdome, Dr. Megavolt, Contessa and the Belgian Waffle. There are chapters on music, vehicles and costumes/identity before the reader is brought face to face with the Man and his many inflammations. The end of the ride lands softly with a retrospective of David Best's temples and closes with a look at the city's dissolution in the chapter "Leave No Trace."

Dale Pendell's "Inspired Madness: The Gifts of Burning Man" (Frog Ltd., 2006) is a loose interpretation of the tribal, post-pagan gathering told through short, abstract episodic vignettes and sketches, which could be hell to read if Pendell wasn't such a interesting storyteller wading up to his eyeballs in the spirit and joy of each moment.

"This is Burning Man" by Brian Dogherty (Benbella, 2004) is much less abstract and subjective, and less fun too. It seeks to tell the story of what BM is, where it came from and why it is what it is from a journalist's perspective, though Dogherty claims no impartiality: he has been burning for over a decade. Warning: knowing *too* much about the people pulling the levers behind the curtain can spoil the fun and dull the mystery. Mostly, Dogherty does a fine job of translating the untranslatable and he has a deeper grasp than most on what draws so many diverse people to the desert gathering year after year.

What happens when a bunch of academics go to the Burn, drop acid and start taking notes? You end up with the book "Afterburn: Reflections on a Burning Man" (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2005), offering essays like "Utopia, Social Sculpture and Burning Man" and "Fires of the Heart: Ritual, Pilgrimage and Transformation."

Finally, I love the exquisite collection of black & white photos presented in A. Leo Nash's "Burning Man: Art in the Desert" (Abrams, 2007.) Nash's is an unusual look at Burning Man – his colorless, arid photographs focus on the diversity of art that is brought to the party. His camera is trained on the sculptures, interactive installations, vehicles and structures that populate the empty playa on the outskirts of the city. Nash has a natural gift for composition and capturing detail, though it is unsettling to view these otherwordly, fantastical dreamworks frozen in time and outside of their original dusty context. Rich and mysterious.

If you are a Burner left behind this year, you might consider buying or borrowing something from this reading list to keep your soul in alignment in the dim days of the Default World.