Following the death by suicide of an old college friend, Calvin Trillin tells the story of Denny's life and analyzes the things that may have led himFollowing the death by suicide of an old college friend, Calvin Trillin tells the story of Denny's life and analyzes the things that may have led him to end it. A Yale golden boy whose graduation was covered by Life magazine, Denny seemed to have limitless promise—his friends used to joke constantly (but semi-seriously) about him one day becoming president—but after two years at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and following a rejection from the Foreign Service, his career never seemed to reach the heights others had anticipated. In talking with Denny's post-college friends, Trillin is also surprised to discover that Denny's personal life was troubled; he struggled with his homosexuality—something Trillin himself never knew about—and suffered deep bouts of depression. Trillin's exploration of this singular, personal tragedy raises a lot of interesting questions about youthful pressures and expectations, about 1950s America, and about how destructive something like the country's negative attitude toward anything but perfectly conforming straightness can be. This book almost seems like what The Great Gatsby would have been if it was a) a true story, b) set three decades later, and c) starred Tom Buchanan—a much more sympathetic Tom Buchanan—as the main character. A truly fascinating read.
This is basically a diary of one year of Bouton's life playing baseball—specifically, the '69 season, and there's really a great sense of time and plaThis is basically a diary of one year of Bouton's life playing baseball—specifically, the '69 season, and there's really a great sense of time and place, and of baseball culture. To the point where the book caused great controversy upon publication, because Bouton was so honest about the swearing, sexual antics, and pure politics that went on. So much time has passed that it's hard not to feel somewhat removed from the immediacy of that scandal—of course sports stars swear and womanize and the system is corrupted and money-driven—but Bouton's day-to-day life has become no less vivid as the years have passed. He's incredibly funny, and his depiction of his fellow ballplayers is incredibly funny, and you can't help just...liking him. A lot of the book is about how he has difficulties fitting in because he's outspoken and liberal, which is not a good way to be popular in the locker room. I wouldn't go so far as to say that you'll like this book even if you don't like baseball, but I think you'd have a hard time not admiring Bouton's humor and integrity. Plus: several passages about locker room homoeroticism! (They have a kissing club. Jeeze, guys.) FTW!
In short, I adored this book, and it made me want to adore baseball like I used to. And it made an encouraging argument in favor of being outspoken, too. It really is more than just a sports book. ...more
Written by the creator of Freaks and Geeks, this is basically a collection of all the most awful and embarrassing things that can happen to you growinWritten by the creator of Freaks and Geeks, this is basically a collection of all the most awful and embarrassing things that can happen to you growing up. And then some: if you have the slightest embarrassment squick, I recommend avoiding this book like you would avoid a public speaking contest for people who stutter and have Tourette's. I can watch assorted humiliating sitcom moments all the way through and not feel too bad, but this book had me not only hiding my head in my hands but wanting to invent time travel just so I could go back in time and beat the crap out of everyone who harassed Feig, seemingly the most put-upon and unfortunate boy in the world. There are two chapters in here about Feig's first day of high school gym that pretty much made me want to die.
Which is not to say the book isn't funny. It just really, really is not fun....more
This book was incredibly frustrating. I stumbled across it at the library and picked it up because I’d heard that it’s being made into a movie starrinThis book was incredibly frustrating. I stumbled across it at the library and picked it up because I’d heard that it’s being made into a movie starring John Cusack. I was also somewhat intrigued by the premise, which is based on the author’s own life: a single, gay sci-fi writer decides he wants to adopt a kid, but the boy he becomes committed to is very troubled and thinks he (the boy) is a Martian. My main worry going in was that it was going to be too saccharine (favorable comparisons to Tuesdays with Morrie on the front cover are actually more likely to deter me than make me read something); it mostly wasn’t. Instead, however, it’s incredibly scattered. The book starts out at a fairly normal pace, but halfway through Gerrold abruptly changes gears and goes from describing how he tried to help his adopted son, Dennis, to adjust, to actually—though self-consciously—thinking that Dennis may really be from Mars. Then that line of thought is abruptly abandoned. Other seemingly major incidents—like a conflict with intolerant neighbors that we’re told resulted in legal action—are glossed over in a paragraph or two, while other (lame) running jokes and frankly irrelevant thoughts on the nature of storytelling are given pages of pages of time. It’s a mess. A well-intended mess, but a mess.
Oddly, I do think this could make a good movie, if whoever’s adapting it gives it some badly-needed structure. Although—guess what?—a quick check of IMDb reveals that in the film, Cusack’s character is suddenly straight. Sigh....more
Watson’s retelling of his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA. Really a story about academic infighting, which Watson recounts withWatson’s retelling of his and Francis Crick’s discovery of the structure of DNA. Really a story about academic infighting, which Watson recounts with enough humor to make it quite amusing. The science stuff is really mostly beyond me, but the book is enjoyable if you’re interested in how human thought processes work, and in the social foibles of very smart people.
One curious thing about this book is the treatment of Rosalind Franklin, one of the rival scientists at King’s. In telling the story as it happened, Watson depicts Franklin in an often not-so-favorable light, as for a long time he did not like her, but at the end he goes out of the way to credit her and say how much he came to like her later. This seems reasonable within the context of the narrative, yet some of the reading I did afterward suggests that there is further controversy about Watson and Crick’s use of Franklin’s results, etc. I’d be curious to read a book about Franklin and see what perspectives it has to offer.
But, controversy aside, this is a great example of science as an adventure story, and I quite enjoyed it....more
A really excellent memoir, in which (for a refreshing change!) the author's happy, normal childhood leads to her own crazy bohemian existence in San FA really excellent memoir, in which (for a refreshing change!) the author's happy, normal childhood leads to her own crazy bohemian existence in San Francisco. Nothing is romanticized (illegal crash pads seem much less enticing when they're suffering from a sewage leak; take that, Rent!); everything seems emotionally honest and real. Lisick is so likable and engaging that I almost do want to take a stab at la vie boheme...but then I remember that I like my library feces-free. Lisick's a braver woman than I! And a terrific writer....more
I adore Gerald Durrell. This is definitely on the list of Books That Have Made Me Emit Embarrassingly Loud Snorting Noises in Public. And I'm probablI adore Gerald Durrell. This is definitely on the list of Books That Have Made Me Emit Embarrassingly Loud Snorting Noises in Public. And I'm probably in the minority here, but I actually like this one more than My Family and Other Animals....more
A really lovely, picture-enhanced account of Terry Fox and his run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research. The only problem wiA really lovely, picture-enhanced account of Terry Fox and his run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research. The only problem with it, really, is that it assumes you know who Fox was and the basic details of his story—I knew, vaguely, but I wish there'd been a bit more background about him. (Basically: Fox, an enthusiastic athlete, was diagnosed with cancer when he was in college; he had to have his leg amputated. He immediately started retraining with a prosthetic leg, then embarked on the aforementioned cross-country run. He'd made it three-fourths of the way there and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars when the cancer came back; he had to be hospitalized and died when he was only 23.) However, Coupland has a great way of distilling a story into images and snapshot-like paragraphs, and he does this moving story total justice. Without being sappy at all, this book—and Terry Fox's story—shows how one person really can make an enormous difference....more
A really excellent and heartbreaking account of growing up in Iran in the late '70s/early '80s, told in graphic novel form. Has rightfully been comparA really excellent and heartbreaking account of growing up in Iran in the late '70s/early '80s, told in graphic novel form. Has rightfully been compared to Maus, and is, I think, something everyone should make an effort to read. It offers excellent insights into Iranian culture, as well as illustrating hard and horrifying truths about how and why revolutions can fail. It also makes me really grateful that—for now, anyway—we do have free speech in this country. SO WE NEED TO USE IT. We need to speak out now, while we can, and not allow our corrupt government to invade any more countries or bomb Iran—which, as books like Satrapi's drive home, is full of ordinary people, real people, people who are trying to change things or are even just trying to get by and make better lives for themselves. I'm sure the situation in Iran is still incredibly fucked up, but we won't be helping anyone by imposing our fucked-upness upon them.
Sorry. Useless political rant over. A better point is: read this book. Personally, I will be hunting down the sequel....more
Memoir of Nick Hornby's life with football. Really, this is a book about fandom—Hornby could just as easily be talking about internet TV/book/movie/baMemoir of Nick Hornby's life with football. Really, this is a book about fandom—Hornby could just as easily be talking about internet TV/book/movie/band fandom, except there's less gay sex and a lot more of people punching each other. The point is, this book, which would seem to be very much for the masculine sports fan, is actually scarily-relatable: Hornby talks about using his fannish obsession as the best and easiest way to make friends, about how he gets nauseated right before matches (please tell me I'm not the only one who feels sick to her stomach before a new episode of her favorite show), about the horrible panic he feels at the thought of missing a single game. The parallels go on and on; Hornby has, he says, measured out his life in football matches, and if I were to write a memoir, I could just as easily map my life so far over key episodes of whatever I was then-obsessing over on TV. It's a little freaky.
So what have I learned from this? Obviously that I need to find an obsessive sports fan to date. We'd be sympathetic to each other's obsessions, and could help one another nurture them, but since they wouldn't overlap, we wouldn't have to worry about, say, him having to stay home with our hypothetical child on game day, or me having to miss any of the season premiere because a pipe burst. PERFECT. Now why isn't there a dating service for people like us?...more
Another of Sab's recs, this is a fantastic account by a surgeon in the last year of his residency. Gawande blends discussion of interesting and curiouAnother of Sab's recs, this is a fantastic account by a surgeon in the last year of his residency. Gawande blends discussion of interesting and curious cases with thoughts on both ethical and technical issues facing doctors today, and makes it all immanently readable—I was never, not once, confused by jargon or technical terms. Gawande is thoughtful and compassionate, and willing to recognize faults both in his profession and in himself. If you're at all interested in medicine, or enjoy watching Scrubs or House or any of those shows, this is really well worth checking out....more
Rougher and less focused than Persepolis, the first half of this volume focuses on Satrapi's life in Austria where her parents sent to be safe and toRougher and less focused than Persepolis, the first half of this volume focuses on Satrapi's life in Austria where her parents sent to be safe and to go to school. Though away from the war in Iran, she still stuggles, both with others' treatment of her as a foreigner and with growing up alone and very isolated. After a period in which she actually ends up living on the street, she returns gratefully to Iran; even if the country is still messed up, she has her family there. This is where the book really picked up for me, and the second half is as good as anything in the first volume. Satrapi talks about how different the internal world of Iranians is/was than the external: outside you have to appear to be conservative and pious, while at home people would hold wild parties, even orgies. "The more time passed," she writes, "the more I became conscious of the contrast between the official representation of my country and the real life of the people, the one that went on behind the walls." I love how Satrapi reinforces the fact that everyone, everywhere is essentially human—something I think the current American administration would like us to forget.
Not quite as good as Persepolis, but still excellent....more
I know this is a classic, and I know it has important things to say about poverty, but I’m only on chapter three, and I’ve already had to endure a bruI know this is a classic, and I know it has important things to say about poverty, but I’m only on chapter three, and I’ve already had to endure a brutal rape scene and—worse, in a way—the author’s casual anti-Semitism. (I expected better from Orwell, seriously). I’m not happy. :(...more
A series of vignettes, almost, about women's lives in Iran, connected by bridging segments of after-dinner tea and conversation with Satrapi's mother,A series of vignettes, almost, about women's lives in Iran, connected by bridging segments of after-dinner tea and conversation with Satrapi's mother, grandmother, and their relatives and friends. The embroideries of the title do NOT have to do with arts and crafts, but rather refer to what some Iranian women do to, um, regain their virginities. (OW!) This book is seemingly lighter than either volume of Persepolis, but there's an underlying weight and seriousness, and Satrapi as usual is great at conveying character and telling stories. I only wish it had been longer....more
Essays and interviews by and with Iranians about what life is really like in their home country, and about their receptions in and reactions to the reEssays and interviews by and with Iranians about what life is really like in their home country, and about their receptions in and reactions to the rest of the world. As with many collections, some of these pieces were really excellent, while others were not; the interviews were in many ways the weakest, veering off into somewhat pretentious discussions of post-modern works I haven't seen. But I'm glad that (inspired, unsurprisingly, by Persepolis) I read this; I would love to read more good books about Iran and the Iranian experience....more
The story of how sex columnist Savage and his boyfriend Terry come to adopt a kid. Savage writes with great humor, even (especially?) when he's clearlThe story of how sex columnist Savage and his boyfriend Terry come to adopt a kid. Savage writes with great humor, even (especially?) when he's clearly angry: the attitude toward gay men and women in the United States is still so ridiculously backwards, especially when it comes to things like wanting to have a family. Savage does a great job exploring the issues of adoption, open adoption, gay adoption, and modern families in general, and balancing all of that discussion with his own story. This book was unexpectedly, wonderfully moving—I actually teared up toward then end during the scenes where Dan and Terry hold their son for the first time, and when they react to having to take him from the mother who's unable to care for him. The whole book is a fascinating, engaging, political, emotional read. I really recommend it....more
The story of how sex columnist Savage and his boyfriend Terry try to decide whether they want to get married. Not as focused or quite as good as TheThe story of how sex columnist Savage and his boyfriend Terry try to decide whether they want to get married. Not as focused or quite as good as The Kid, as much of the book involves Dan and Terry and Dan's mom and Dan and Terry's son D.J. and Dan and Terry's various other relatives going back and forth (and back and forth) on the issue, giving the narrative less forward momentum and impetus than the other book. Still, I really enjoyed Savage's frank, intelligent, humorous, but impassioned analysis of the issues at hand, and the insights into his life as well. (The story about the margaritas was so good I had to share it soon after reading.) I'm looking forward to reading more of Savage's work....more
A memoir about a writer who, after a fight with cancer, takes a part-time job at a local, independently-run bookstore. This seemed right up my alley:A memoir about a writer who, after a fight with cancer, takes a part-time job at a local, independently-run bookstore. This seemed right up my alley: books, bookstores, and writing are three of my favorite things (throw in some slashy TV and a couple of cupcakes and I'll never leave). But Shea's narrative is both too personal and too distant. She'll say things like, "And then Old Hank, who everyone in town knows, came in." That example is totally made-up and probably exaggerated, but the point remains: I don't know Old Hank; Shea never makes me feel, as a reader, like I know Old Hank—or anyone. I felt like I was having a conversation with a group of people I just met but who all know each other: their stories would resonate greatly with them, but leave me feeling left out in the cold. Shea never brings the reader in; she made me nostalgic for the bookstore in the small town where I grew up, but didn't make me feel like I knew her bookstore at all. I don't know if I was just cranky when I read this or not, but it left me feeling dissatisfied; it left me cold....more
That guy who traded up from a red paperclip to a house in Saskatchewan tells his story. Unfortunately, he doesn't tell it particularly well. It's a grThat guy who traded up from a red paperclip to a house in Saskatchewan tells his story. Unfortunately, he doesn't tell it particularly well. It's a great story, don't get me wrong, but MacDonald's style...I don't want to call it too "bloggy," as there are a lot of well-written blogs out there. But I could understand someone leveling that criticism, because MacDonald's writing, whether the product of blogging or not, is unfocused, not terribly descriptive—none of the places he visits ever came alive for me—and full of those painfully-awkward sentences and assemblages of sentences where the writer clearly thinks he is being very, very funny...but he is not. The whole book seems so strained, like MacDonald was rushed into Getting His Incredible Story Out There! Also, seriously not helping things: he ends every chapter with a few pieces of advice/"affirmation statements." Gag me. I think it's meant to be done ironically, but instead it comes across like those people who say they're watching Survivor or Big Brother or whatever "ironically," as if that somehow excuses their being glued to the television every week. Sorry, I don't buy it.
Luckily, I didn't buy this book, either—I traded for it, and I've since traded it for something else. I hope MacDonald is proud of me....more
This collection of diary entries, school essays, and other adolescent “treasures” is completely hilarious. It gets a little repetitive toward the endThis collection of diary entries, school essays, and other adolescent “treasures” is completely hilarious. It gets a little repetitive toward the end with so many entries of the “Does he/she like me? I think he/she likes me! …He/she doesn’t like me” variety. However, there are plenty of weird, bizarre, and wonderful gems to make up for it. My favorite? The smutty self-insertion Duran Duran fanfic. *snort* Not for those with a strong embarrassment squick, but no worse (and, I’d argue, generally less humiliating) than anything Paul Feig’s ever produced....more
Very enjoyable look at the candy industry, especially its smaller, lesser-known offshoots—all of which are struggling under the Hershey/Nestle stranglVery enjoyable look at the candy industry, especially its smaller, lesser-known offshoots—all of which are struggling under the Hershey/Nestle stranglehold. Almond also covers the history of candy production, though at its heart, this book is personal, and all about obsession, something I’m sure anyone reading this LJ can relate to. Almond’s nonfiction continues to be way more awesome than his fiction....more
Fantastic Bryson-y biography, with a focus on how little we really know about Shakespeare. Though I kind of wish I’d read Stephen Greenblatt’s WillFantastic Bryson-y biography, with a focus on how little we really know about Shakespeare. Though I kind of wish I’d read Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World first, because now, if I ever get around to it (it’s been on my TBR pile for how long?), I think I’ll be wanting to call shenanigans on him the whole time. “Oh, Stephen. You and your SPECULATING.”...more