William T. Vollmann

It’s a good thing that William T. Vollmann will explain his latest book tonight, so you don’t have to read it. Or at least not all of it. Not that we endorse such slacking, but the 1,344-page Imperial (Viking, $55) makes his Europe Central look like a skinny in-flight paperback. This gargantuan new non-fiction work is based on Vollmann’s typically prodigious ground-level reporting and research—an immersion into California’s closest border county to Mexico, from whence much of our produce is grown and tended by immigrants legal and otherwise. His decade-long project surveys water rights, pollution, agriculture, the Salton Sea, folk music, hookers and strip clubs (always that perennial Vollmann obsession), those crazy border-watch militia people, Catholicism, California state history…should we stop here and take a breather? The author can’t possibly summarize for you, in a single evening, what he’s written. But all should be awed by the scale of his feat. Oh, and by the way: You can also buy a smaller, 200-page companion photo volume shot by Vollmann—also called Imperial (powerHouse, $55), guaranteed to be an easier introduction to his weighty subject. BRIAN MILLER

Thu., Aug. 13, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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