Book Markers 12.15.11

“Portrait of Long Island”

    When it comes to gift-giving, books are all well and good as gestures, but, let’s face it, they almost always go unread. This is where the picture book comes in — thoughtfulness acknowledged, it can be flipped through in a matter of seconds and placed for all time on a coffee table as decoration.

    For your consideration, then, is the photographer Jake Rajs’s “Portrait of Long Island,” handsome, colorful, well papered, well bound. From the Monacelli Press, it covers “The North Fork and the Hamptons,” as its subtitle has it, and everything in between (er, Shelter Island). In addition to shots you’d expect — Shinnecock Inlet and Georgica Pond from on high, wide beaches fortified with snow fence, the Flanders landmark the Big Duck — there’s the unexpected: the Springs General Store at night, for instance, looking for all the world like an Edward Hopper composition, or the Beach Bakery Cafe in Westhampton Beach, its windows as amber as a good bottle of Scotch.

    The book has essays, too. In a discussion of the South Fork, Paul Goldberger, the architecture critic for The New Yorker, offers a word portrait when he quotes The Star’s former editor Everett Rattray’s description of Long Island as “a whale with a healthy trunk and skull, its forehead nuzzling Manhattan and its jaws about to bite Staten Island. The whale’s flukes, the North and South Forks at the eastern end, dangle off in the distance toward Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.”

“Countdown to Immortality”

    Futurists get a bad, Popular Mechanics rap, don’t they. But hold the flying cars and personalized jet packs, a recent book edited by Flora Schnall of the Amagansett Press documents a host of forward-thinking imaginings that not only weren’t trivial, they came to pass with world-altering effect.

    They were courtesy of one FM Esfandiary, who at first streamlined his name by losing the dots around his initials because they slowed him down before he went on to jettison the name entirely in favor of the unencumbering, farsighted FM-2030. (As relates to the title of the book, “Countdown to Immortality,” 2030 is the year he believed that “humans could opt to be ageless with the chance to live forever,” Ms. Schnall writes in the introduction.) His predictions include instant and globe-linking communications technology, genetic engineering, and even, perhaps as perfected in the Clinton administration, governance through public-opinion polls.

    FM-2030, brutally handsome in his youth, as the book’s one photo reveals, was the son of an Iranian diplomat. He played basketball for that country in the 1948 Olympics. In the U.S., he taught at the New School for Social Research in New York, among other institutions, and wrote a series of books about the future as well as three novels, which is a form of immortality in itself.

    He died in 2000 at the age of 69, leaving the revisions to “Countdown to Immortality” not quite done, to be finished by Ms. Schnall. An extensive questioning of nature’s final dictate, it may be best appreciated by those already familiar with his work — a completion of an oeuvre.

    In his own attempt to circumvent death, FM-2030 had his body frozen in Scottsdale, Ariz. Given his track record of prognostication, the facility might consider investing in another warehouse. B.G.

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