________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 22 . . . . June 22, 2007


The Big Book of Pop Culture: A How-to Guide for Young Artists.

Hal Niedzviecki. Illustrated by Marc Ngui.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2007.
183 pp., pbk. & cl., $14.95 (pbk.), $24.95 (cl.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-055-9 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-056-6.

Subject Headings:
Popular culture-Juvenile literature.
Creation (Literary, artistic, etc.)-Juvenile literature.
Arts and teenagers-Juvenile literature.
Arts and youth-Juvenile literature.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Lee Anne Smith.

**½  /4


“So, go ahead, tell me: what exactly is pop culture?

Huh. How about that. All of a sudden the room gets real quiet.

Yeah, okay, you know it when you see it. And you do see it. Every day. Every moment of the day, if you had your way and there was nobody around to tell you to turn off the TV, walk away from that computer screen, save the game and would you please turn down that terrible music?

But just because we can recognize something and understand it doesn’t mean we know what, exactly, it is and how to do it ourselves.”


The conversational tone of this paragraph from The Big Book of Pop Culture: A How–to Guide for Young Artists belies what is actually a comprehensive overview of popular culture and how young people can create their own independent pop culture. 

     The first three chapters discusses the historical context and development of pop culture and describes the history of pop culture defining key concepts like; ‘corporate’ and independent’, ‘accessible’ and ‘mass market’, detailing how and why popular culture is managed by corporations along with the reasons and rationale for the rise of DIY – the do-it-yourself culture. The viewpoint is not a particularly balanced picture, the slant being clearly a voice for the anti-domination of corporate culture. However the passage below addresses the issue of good and bad to some degree.

It would be a big mistake to think that all corporate pop culture is bad and all independent pop culture is good. The fact is, there is lots of corporate pop culture that is really good, and lots of independent culture that is really bad.

     Part Two is very much hooked up to the present, offering the nitty-gritty, practical information for creating, right now, popular culture of your own. The chapters describe the useful nuts and bolts of creating your own pop culture using the do-it-yourself technique for all different kinds of media. From running a DIY television show to making a DIY CD, if readers are interested in getting out their own message to the rest of the world, or even just to their friends, there is a ton of practical and inspirational information here.

     That ton of information brings up the difficulty of reading this book - TMI! - too much information. TMI echoes frequently in our home when I suggest books to my 17-year-old. When she started to read this book, she pronounced – TMI! I have to agree but for the following reason. Too many times the writing goes over content that has already been stated. Partly this comes from the conversational approach of the writing. In conversation, we often repeat ourselves because we don’t see what we have said. In addition, because the many sidebars and feature pages also reiterate information found in the body of the text, this reader felt a bit beleaguered with the amount of the same information, albeit from different sources.

     Speaking of format, the soft-cover trade format contains many wonderful interviews, photos, mini-bios and full-page personal anecdotes throughout the 180 pages. At the end of every chapter, there is also a list of suggested reading, examples of DIY related to the chapter content to try out and keyword searches for further reference. Less appealing were the zine-style graphics.

     The author Hal Niedzviecki is definitely a huge DIY advocate. He is also dead-on in emphasizing the importance of pop culture, independent or corporate, for teens and young adults. Let’s admit it, for all ages. Niedzviecki, co-fonder of Broken Pencil, a magazine about zine culture and indie arts and author of novels, newspaper columns, non-fiction and magazines articles, is passionate about ordinary people telling their own stories in any format, anywhere, for any reason. Mostly he transfers that passion in an engaging and well thought out manner. However at the risk of being repetitive myself, I found his passion frequently became diluted on the page by the duplication of content, my reason for giving the book an average rating.

     I will be interested to see how often The Big Book of Pop Culture: A How–to Guide for Young Artists will circulate in the teen area of my library. I suspect that the book is a little too big for the average 12 to 16-year-old reader, perhaps being better suited to young adult DIYers in their later teens or early 20’s. Hopefully I will be wrong, and the book will find an audience in both age groups.


Lee Anne Smith is a youth services librarian and Head of the Cambie Branch for Richmond Public Library in Richmond, BC.


To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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