Probably the first book I ever read solely due to Goodreads, Jimmy Corrigan boasts one of the highest total scores on this site, which I'm not ashamedProbably the first book I ever read solely due to Goodreads, Jimmy Corrigan boasts one of the highest total scores on this site, which I'm not ashamed to admit is why I finally got around to reading it.
I've read exactly one graphic novel before in my life, and that was the fairly underwhelming Watchmen, which I read, probably unfairly, in the midst of the build up and excitement immediately preceding the release of the film version. I've at times been surprised by the seeming defensiveness of voracious readers of graphic novels to perceived slights against the form. Nevertheless, I'm one of those unfortunate folks that approach with healthy skepticism claims that the best of this particular form of fiction should be considered among the greatest novels of the 20th (or 21st century). As such, perhaps my haughtiness has contributed in some minor way to this most niche and nerdy (and mostly imagined) of clashes -- book nerds vs. comic book nerds.
Jimmy Corrigan as a work of fiction is a grower, a bit of a slow and confounding starter, but ultimately I found it to be quite emotionally engaging. It's a very sad story about multiple generations of familial discord and dislocation, about awkward kids becoming awkward grown ups, and about life's tendency not to live up to our dreams. Jimmy Corrigan himself is, bluntly, a zilch -- a whiny, mealy-mouthed neurotic who seems incapable of having a normal human relationship and who remains subservient to his mother, apparently his only real social outlet, into his 30s. Nevertheless, the reader, thanks to Chris Ware's skill, is keen to follow his travels and learn about him. This book, apparently slightly semi-autobiographic, explores some of the historical and psychological reasons for Jimmy's current state. As a brand new father, some of the painful scenes in this book were particular poignant. A number of distant/abusive/absentee father-son relationships are plumbed in this book.
I'm not well-versed enough to comment extensively on the art of the book, but its incorporation into, and indeed as the fabric of, the narrative, was one of my favorite part of Jimmy Corrigan. Whether it was art demonstrating with the subtly increasing clues the fact of a fantasy sequence, depicting a realization dawning on a character, or drawing parallels across multiple generations, the art helps fully absorb the reader's focus. One note: I was reading the soft cover, and I have, or at least at one stage had, great vision and some of the drawings and captions strained my eyesight a bit. Just something to keep in mind.
Of course, anything I have to say as concerns this book can be found in much more eloquent and expansive language here on Goodreads. The hive mind did not steer me wrong. ...more
Hard to review this as a book from a purely reading perspective. Great pictures, fairly minimal text. Engaging, but not particularly deep with respectHard to review this as a book from a purely reading perspective. Great pictures, fairly minimal text. Engaging, but not particularly deep with respect to analysis or background. Looking forward to reading a bit more of an in-depth study at some point. ...more
Nathaniel Philbrick's stated mission is to get the reader excited enough about Moby Dick that he or she will want to read it, either for the first timNathaniel Philbrick's stated mission is to get the reader excited enough about Moby Dick that he or she will want to read it, either for the first time, or again for the twelfth. In my case, that mission was accomplished. Maybe next time, after reading The Art of Fielding, I'll try the Arion Press edition. Trade version, of course: I'm not Uncle Pennybags (or Guert Affenlight, for that matter) status.
Philbrick's basic enthusiasm for the book is contagious, even if his reasons for his passion are not always the same as the readers. In a work as vast as Moby Dick, there's plenty to appeal to a wide range of readers, and Philbrick does a great job of encouraging them to engage with the book once more. I suppose for someone who had not previously read the novel, this book would be less interesting and would provide some spoilers, but then, almost every American, whether they've read the book or not, knows how it ends.
More than necessarily a recommendation for this book, I'd echo loudly his basic message -- go read Moby Dick. It's fantastic and not even a fraction as intimidating as misleading cultural shorthand has lead the uninitiated to believe. ...more
I keep thinking I'm getting tired of realism in fiction, but this was pretty strong. Maybe it was the fact that the narrative was anchored in baseballI keep thinking I'm getting tired of realism in fiction, but this was pretty strong. Maybe it was the fact that the narrative was anchored in baseball, a sport I'm fond of, or maybe it was because it was a very quick read, or maybe, simply, it was because it was quite entertaining (something I probably don't say nearly enough about the books I read). I'm far from the first to remark that the The Art of Fielding, in a way, reminded me of 2010's cause célèbre in the world of fiction, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Both take the form of middle brow realism set in sections of largely white and affluent contemporary white America, hype surrounded the release of both books, and the respective covers were omnipresent for several weeks on the particular subway I take to and from work. Unfortunately, for a time, I, like those perpetuating the very hype I've referenced, fell into the trap of thinking about the commentary about the book rather than the book itself.
Thus reading it now, some months after the bookish (and, let's face it, virtually inaudible) uproar concerning The Art of Fielding subsided, provided a fairer chance to consider the book on its own merits. It's a briskly moving narrative set at a fictional Wisconsin liberal arts university, and concerns baseball, the comfort found in hard work and drudgery, mental health, and, most unexpectedly, May December romance. Even more simply, it's about the making of a star baseball player and what happens when this up by his own bootstraps shortstop suddenly forgets how to perform the most basic functions of his job (not unlike Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblach, Rick Ankiel, and others). Not, for my money, as good as The Brothers K, which remains my favorite baseball novel, but an enjoyable read all the same. It no doubt helped that I was reading this in the days leading up to opening day for the 2012 baseball season.
As to shortcomings, I'm not sure Harbach created a particularly convincing female lead (and the only woman of any note in the book in Pella (eh, some of those names)), and there are times where the protagonist became a bit of a cipher, purposely or not. This tendency began to grate on my nerves, as I've grown weary of seemingly endless cavalcade of stoic/autistic/brilliantly misunderstood/painfully shy/socially inept but nevertheless autistically brilliant/etc. young male heroes in modern and contemporary American fiction who somehow triumph over a world that never appreciates or understands them. That said, this is a fun book and worth the small amount of time needed for the fast read, particularly for those baseball fans interested in well done contemporary fiction. Bonus points for the multiple Moby Dick tie-ins. ...more
I bought this book, absurdly, based upon the title and the cover, in an airport on the way back from an alienating overseas work trip and it fit the mI bought this book, absurdly, based upon the title and the cover, in an airport on the way back from an alienating overseas work trip and it fit the mood perfectly. Let It Come Down is quite satisfying as a quick, creepy, and ominous read, and is pitiless in its assessment of its diverse characters striving for various nefarious ends in seedy Tangiers at mid century. It's vaguely noir, with its concern with plots and plans and second lives, most revolving around money or love/lust, but it veers off into almost psychedelic territory towards the end in a way that, depending on the reader's patience, either (A) does a decent job at approximating (temporary?) madness or (B) is quite a tedious and exploitative left hand turn to what had been a fairly tightly woven tense story. In any event, the descriptions of wandering lost through a foreign city are terrific. ...more
Bill Callahan is probably my favorite artist in the world of music today. All of his recorded material is worth checking out and his live performanceBill Callahan is probably my favorite artist in the world of music today. All of his recorded material is worth checking out and his live performance is fantastic. This book is more of a curiosity, though. A decent, quick read, with a quirky structure (composed of one side of a by mail correspondence between a man and woman in a somewhat surreal time approximately resembling our own) but not something I can recommend for anyone but Callahan/Smog zealots looking, like I was, to consume any sort of work from Bill. From a guy who named a song after the author of Mildred Pierce, and has cited James Salter in interviews, perhaps I was expecting something with a bit more narrative, but approached as prose poetry this is just fine. Doesn't touch his songwriting, in my opinion. ...more
Nostalgia is an alluring thing, perhaps never more in vogue than today (Mad Men; Instagram's instant feel of vintage without the pesky trouble of waitNostalgia is an alluring thing, perhaps never more in vogue than today (Mad Men; Instagram's instant feel of vintage without the pesky trouble of waiting years or decades to develop such yearning; authors, songwriters, filmmakers and others casting their minds back towards childhood; etc.). But it's a tricky sensation, this romanticization of the past. I adored At The Fights as a reading experience, as a document of boxing history, and as a reminder of sorts of when long form, literate, erudite, and sometimes even beautiful analysis was applied to this barbarous and undeniably intoxicating sport. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but question my own judgment of this book as I marveled at the power of great writers sent to describe the viciousness, the artistry, the depravity, and occasional transcendence of prize fighting. Do I long for the richness of that era or have I allowed the artistry of beautifying savagery to distract me? Was boxing truly a magnet for intelligent, probing writing, or was this a form of cultural tourism that ignored the sometimes literally fatal costs of the endeavor while seducing the willing with sharp style?
Online boxing analysis is fairly easy to come by, and there are some pretty good resources available for anyone who looks hard enough. Nevertheless, as the popularity of boxing has steadily dwindled from the time when heavyweight champion of the world was the most coveted title in sports to its current stature as a marginalized sport known more for its (ahem) administrative problems, deeply loved by only a narrow sliver of obsessives (from the Rumble in the Jungle to the Long Tail?), the quantity of meaningful, enduring prose dedicated to it has also diminished. Or maybe that's just my own view based on insufficient searches to date.
This is not to take anything way from the more contemporary pieces included in At The Fights, including then-Washington Post writer David Remnick on Mike Tyson, or a stories on Oscar De La Hoya and a star female boxer. But the glory here is in the 30, 40, 50, 60 year old stories and back. See, it happens to be that my own predilections place particularly shiny gold stars on high (or maybe high-middle) brow descriptions of two people fighting for glory and entertainment, especially when these descriptions (1) incorporate critical self-reflection as to why we seek such spectacles or (2) reflect the grimness or essential melancholy of the endeavor. And At The Fights might well be the ultimate greatest hits package for that precise description. Based on my tours of the world of internet journalism concerning boxing, one sensation a reader may experience when working his or her way through At The Fights is an acute realization that "they don't write 'em like that any more."
As one might expect from a compilation from the Library of America, the curation is top notch. The pieces are arranged chronologically and flow from the time of Jack Dempsey to encompass Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson and James Toney, as well as many others whose names rarely appeared on a marquee. The writers represented are similarly venerable: London, Liebling, Plimpton, Baldwin, Mailer, Talese, etc.
This book is fundamentally a must-read for any boxing fan, and any fan of sports journalism as an art form. Giving 5 stars to a compilation might be cheesy or cheating, but a book like this represents a luxury to a reader as he or she is exposed to a flowing collection of great writers over time confronting a single topic from a variety of angles. The era of the man of letters (talk about a thing of the past!) sitting ringside and making art out of words about the brawl before him is clearly dead. Whether or not we should mourn that loss or instead congratulate ourselves for moving on and saying goodbye to all that remains, in my mind, an open question. ...more
I went to a book talk to see Louis Menard, the writer of this book's introduction (which is largely the same as his New Yorker piece that drew my inteI went to a book talk to see Louis Menard, the writer of this book's introduction (which is largely the same as his New Yorker piece that drew my interest in the first place) and John Summers, the book's editor, and was interested in their shared views on the declining relevance of MacDonald's core critiques in today's world. I'm, however, not so certain we're all that far past concerns about profit over quality or obligation over merit when it comes to the types of art and culture we consume. (Speaking of, that very verb is a problematic, and very 21st century, term that captures a sliver of these issues.)
Sure, we've seemingly merged two worlds, high and low brow through, among other things, postmodernism and the increasing access technology gives most of us to a broader spectrum of arts and true, we no longer fear declining cultural literacy as the leading edge of the end of our way of life (or worse still the beginning of the slippery slope towards totalitarianism). After all, the trope of "TV as the new novel" seems pretty well accepted amongst even what is left of the chattering class.
Nevertheless, there is absolutely a continuing vitality to the need for resistance to, and indeed attacks upon, the vulgarization and commoditization of culture and art. Snobbery (which, arguably, at its best could be better described as strong-minded, well-informed and vocal discernment) may have never been less popular, but passionate and reasoned dissent from the tidal wave of common sentiment (even if sometimes it's cheekily contrarian for its own sake) will always have a place on my bookshelf. I think reading this book and Adorno in a cycle for a couple of months would make me despair (even more) of the state of culture today, and perhaps expose me as hopelessly outmoded, but damn if I don't at times long for these sort of well constructed, poison-penned cultural assessments. These writers are not, and should never be, ultimate cultural arbiters (any more than the false cultural beacons they skewered), but revealing takedowns of hard things made easy (a phrase that might be both an oversimplification of midcult and a shorthand description of the internet age) are more important now today than ever.
All that said, MacDonald is far from perfect, as even one who has sought out venom begins after a while to tire of relentless negativity when critiques morph into somewhat overdone rants. Moreover, there are sticky and potentially quite regressive implications as to issues of privilege and class embedded in some of his big ideas that ought not be as glossed over as I have here. For a much more complex and complete view of the book and the man, the Salon article linked in another review above is highly recommended. ...more