Reading Sarah Vowell always inspires in me the same reaction as watching/listening to a really cool kid did in high school (or, okay, now): I despera...moreReading Sarah Vowell always inspires in me the same reaction as watching/listening to a really cool kid did in high school (or, okay, now): I desperately want to hang with her. (Especially because she's also friends with fellow essayist David Rakoff, whom I adore; one of the pieces in this collection is about the two of them going to DisneyWorld, and I had resist the temptation to leap up from my couch, waving my hand and crying: 'Ooh, take me! Take me, too!') In these essays about growing up/living in America and trying to make sense of American history and culture, Vowell captures the spirit and soul of (this often impossibly fucked up) country in a way that's remarkably close to the way I see it—remarkable, among other reasons, because Vowell's experiences are mostly based around living in Oklahoma, Montana, and Chicago, and mine around Vermont and California. It's nice to think that there are still some aspects of American life that can be seen as inclusive, red state or blue, and though Vowell (quite rightly) doesn't gloss over any of the nation's nastier aspects, she treats all her subjects with respect and humor—qualities we could certainly use more of.(less)
The best thing about the Memphis airport? They sell used books. Why don’t ALL airports do this? Anyway, this was a book that I got there, because my f...moreThe best thing about the Memphis airport? They sell used books. Why don’t ALL airports do this? Anyway, this was a book that I got there, because my flight was delayed and I needed a quick laugh. Sedaris’ opening essay, about working as a Macy’s elf at Christmas, certainly delivered—and we’re talking the usual, must-bite-lip-and-not-appear-psycho-to-strangers kind of laugh-inducement here. Unfortunately, Sedaris is a much better essayist than he is a short story writer; the pieces of fiction that share the volume were much too obvious, totally without the subtlety his non-fiction possesses. If you’re not stuck in an airport, I’d recommend reading the first essay in this volume in the store, then picking up one of Sedaris’ longer, richer, better books.(less)
I found much of this pretty dull, aside from the essay about the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, which I had already read in City of Glass. (In fairn...moreI found much of this pretty dull, aside from the essay about the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver, which I had already read in City of Glass. (In fairness, Polaroids did come out first.) However, the final essay about Brentwood is wonderful. If you're a fan of L.A. neighborhoods, the book may be worth it just for that.(less)
David Rakoff is my hero (and one of my many, many gay Canadian boyfriends). He's hilariously funny, but there's real meat to this volume, too. My fav...more David Rakoff is my hero (and one of my many, many gay Canadian boyfriends). He's hilariously funny, but there's real meat to this volume, too. My favorite essays are the one exploring Rakoff's mixed feelings upon deciding to become an American citizen, and the chapter about the Log Cabin Republicans. In the latter Rakoff presents himself as sympathetic to their plight yet understandably completely baffled by gay Republicans' attempts to earn a place inside "the big tent" (the essay's called "Beat Me, Daddy"—and for good reason). There's a humanity to his political commentary that's increasingly rare these days.(less)
A very early Neil Gaiman collection, that I think is kind of hard to get now. Most of the short stories have since been reprinted, many of them in S...moreA very early Neil Gaiman collection, that I think is kind of hard to get now. Most of the short stories have since been reprinted, many of them in Smoke and Mirrors, but what makes this volume cool is that it also contains a few examples of Gaiman's journalism, including a book review he wrote after he lost the book. He mostly ends up talking about peeing in styrofoam cups and elephant come, I believe. A treasure.(less)
Chuck Klosterman's essays are always interesting, even when I disagree with him, even when he makes me angry. There are even a couple of essays about...moreChuck Klosterman's essays are always interesting, even when I disagree with him, even when he makes me angry. There are even a couple of essays about musicians I really like in this volume (Bono and Morrissey) which is a fun bonus; considering that I've read Klosterman's book about heavy metal, which I am totally not interested in, it was a curious experience to hear his thoughts on something I honestly do care about. Klosterman doesn't shre my love, but he's fair to his subjects and really does raise interesting points—fine qualities in an essayist. However, the one example of his fiction at the conclusion of this volume does not display his finer qualities quite so well; it kind of reads like a bad Chuck Palahniuk/ Douglas Coupland fusion. Chuck Klosterman should stick to being Chuck Klosterman; he's very good at it.(less)
A collection of essays in which various authors and essayists discuss rereading their favorite works, from The Charterhouse of Parma to the back of S...moreA collection of essays in which various authors and essayists discuss rereading their favorite works, from The Charterhouse of Parma to the back of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I haven't read most of the works discussed in this book, so while I enjoyed all of the essays, some of them lost some resonance for me. I actually thought Fadiman's introduction, in which she discusses reading The Horse and His Boy with her son was one of the most effective, perhaps because I feel a personal connection to any discussion about disenchantment with Narnia, but also because she emphasizes the difference between reading and rereading more strongly and concretely than many of the other essays.
All in all, this was an enjoyable collection, but unlike Fadiman's solo effort, the fantastic Ex Libris, one I'm glad I got from the library instead of purchasing; in other words, most likely not a book I will be rereading.(less)
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 re...moreEssays 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.(less)
The concept is interesting: twenty-three writers discuss their favorite TV shows. The execution...sadly less so. Almost all the shows discussed were B...moreThe concept is interesting: twenty-three writers discuss their favorite TV shows. The execution...sadly less so. Almost all the shows discussed were Before My Time; I think the only ones that had any personal relevance to me were The West Wing and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (with half a point each for The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek). Also, a lot of the writers seemed to take this as a great opportunity to be windbags; nobody likes pretentiousness, but I especially dislike pretentiousness about pop culture. I am already on the side of people writing about pop culture—I do think it's an important topic, worthy of writing about! So please don't make yourself sound like an asshole by talking about the "oikos" of the Enterprise—or if you must do so, at least do so with a sense of humor. Some people did: I liked Nick Horby's West Wing essay, and April Bernard about Secret Agent; I even liked some of the more serious ones, like David Shields' discussion of Monday Night Football (really!) and Lan Samantha Chang writing about how growing up Chinese-American in Wisconsin was kind of like Gilligan's Island (no, really!). But there was a way-too-high percentage of windbaggery, or just dullness; too much, "My knowledge of Ancient Greek: let me show you it." Also, dear editors: please do not introduce your essay collection by summarizing all the essays therein. Thanks.
I feel like this same idea could be done in a much more interesting way. Maybe when fandom finally takes over the world?(less)
So, last week I went out for sushi with my parents. I had just read the essay from this collection where Fadiman talks about being a night owl; my mom...moreSo, last week I went out for sushi with my parents. I had just read the essay from this collection where Fadiman talks about being a night owl; my mom is a major night owl, so, thinking she'd appreciate it, I recommended the book to her. Turns out she knows Fadiman: they went to Harvard together, lived in Dunster House together, used to fly back on the same planes from Boston to where they lived in L.A. My mom wrinkled her nose as she told me this. She and Anne were not bestest buddies, apparently: "She was so pretentious," my mom said. "We had nothing at all in common." Um.
1. Night owls. 2. Lived in L.A. 3. Went to Harvard. 4. Lived in Dunster House. 5. Chilled food by leaving it out on the windowsill (my mom's told me for years that she used to do this with various Sara Lee cakes, and Fadiman mentions the technique in one of her essays). 6. At another time, lived in New York. 7. Fathers were writers. 8. Grew up to be writers. 9. Bibliophiles. 10. Fadiman named her daughter Susannah; my mom named her daughter...something very similar to Susannah. 11. Both aware that Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy and Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln!
I rest my case.
As for the book—I was kind of weirded out the rest of the time I was reading it, but it was still really good. This may be because Fadiman reminds me of my mom, but if so, neither of them needs to know that.(less)
Reread. There are some extremely funny and otherwise excellent essays in this collection—the one about Sedaris' sister Tiffany, the two about his brot...moreReread. There are some extremely funny and otherwise excellent essays in this collection—the one about Sedaris' sister Tiffany, the two about his brother, the final one about the drowned mouse. These are the ones I had so fondly remembered. Unfortunately, there are also a bunch of lesser pieces—ones that feel sort of like half an idea, unfinished essays that he hasn't quite gotten around to fleshing out yet. When Sedaris is at his best, he's funny and smart; he draws great connections. Some of the essays in this collection are like that; others are just amusing or odd incidents written up. They're still written well, but they don't show Sedaris at the top of his game. So: mixed bag here. Still glad I have it, but I would have much rather found Me Talk Pretty One Day for 50¢ and reread that.(less)
Interesting collection of essays, on topics ranging from buying a cow to Saddam Hussein. I liked the goofy ones best, unsurprisingly. There are two ma...moreInteresting collection of essays, on topics ranging from buying a cow to Saddam Hussein. I liked the goofy ones best, unsurprisingly. There are two major criticisms I’ve read about this collection. The first, the fact that only two female essayists are represented, I agree with—wither the Sarah Vowell, Ira? (And that’s just one example I could provide.) The second is that all the essays collected here are rather old; this may be true, but save the Chuck Klosterman one (on Val Kilmer), they were all new to me, so I enjoyed them. I don’t think this is the best nonfiction writing out there, but it’s still good stuff.(less)
Well, I guess at least certain aspects of Bayard’s thesis are correct: I read this book just a few months ago, and with the little that I remember…yea...moreWell, I guess at least certain aspects of Bayard’s thesis are correct: I read this book just a few months ago, and with the little that I remember…yeah, I almost might as well’ve not have. I thought I would enjoy some sly academic humor, but for that I probably should have stuck to David Lodge (whom interestingly—okay, actually, it’s not that interesting, but Bayard does discuss him). This book (FROM THE ADMITTEDLY LIMITED AMOUNTS I REMEMBER) isn’t that funny, and it’s neither about any of the things that make me love books or reading, nor (THAT I RECALL) a particularly engaging skewering of literary pretension. So, yes: there’s my half-remembered, half-baked opinion. According to Bayard’s philosophy, it’s gold.(less)
The former executive producer of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report edits a collection of essays/stories that for the most part aren’t lessons so m...moreThe former executive producer of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report edits a collection of essays/stories that for the most part aren’t lessons so much as accounts of guys being stupid about sex and/or love. And for the most part, they’re pretty funny. Nick Hornby’s introduction had me laughing aloud, and there were plenty of other hilarious moments (although I was kind of disappointed by Stephen Colbert’s entry, which was a one-gag piece). I think Karlin did a good job of mostly not letting things stray toward the nasty or the misogynistic; Dan Savage’s piece about how he discovered he was not that keen on vaginas is probably the most squirm-worthy, but hey, it’s 1) by Dan Savage, 2) entitled “I Am a Gay Man,” and 3) still disclaimer-heavy. With the mood the internet is currently in (and I’m including myself here), this may not be the best book to pick up—Open Source and some incidents at work have kind of put men on thin ice with me at the moment—but when I read it, I enjoyed it and had some laughs, so. Guys, maybe if you stop being assholes, I can enjoy sex-related humor again! WORK ON THAT KTHX.(less)
Reread. Like a cozy-warm blanket, is this book. I think Nick Hornby writing about books and reading is pretty much the ultimate comfort read for me. I...moreReread. Like a cozy-warm blanket, is this book. I think Nick Hornby writing about books and reading is pretty much the ultimate comfort read for me. In this volume, he's funny, unpretentious, and genuinely curious about the world and the people in it. I wish I saw what he sees in Dickens, however.(less)
A series of essays Lodge wrote for the London Independent about, well…the art of fiction. Lodge’s tone is engaging and informative; he never talks dow...moreA series of essays Lodge wrote for the London Independent about, well…the art of fiction. Lodge’s tone is engaging and informative; he never talks down to the reader, and he’s not just showing off, either. My one gripe would be that the essays—having previously been newspaper columns—were all too short: I kept feeling like they ended just when he was starting to really get somewhere. But then, I was trained on lengthy English lectures. I bet Lodge was a rockin’ professor, and I wish he’d been mine.(less)
Another immensely enjoyable Sedaris collection. Most of the laugh out loud moments for me revolved around jokes about shit, pee, the flatulence of eld...moreAnother immensely enjoyable Sedaris collection. Most of the laugh out loud moments for me revolved around jokes about shit, pee, the flatulence of elderly women, ass boils, and camels, but that’s just because I’m sophisticated like that.
Although actually: actually, one of the amazing things about Sedaris is that he attains emotional depth in essays nominally about ass boils—“Old Faithful,” one of my favorites in this collection and the only one I had read previously, is somehow one of the sweetest love stories I’ve lately encountered. And the final, sprawling essay about quitting smoking and living in Japan, is wonderfully complex and detailed. I already want to read it again. Too bad the public library discourages stealing.(less)
Perry recounts how he moved back to his very small Wisconsin hometown and reintegrated himself into the community by becoming a volunteer firefighter...morePerry recounts how he moved back to his very small Wisconsin hometown and reintegrated himself into the community by becoming a volunteer firefighter and first responder. This is an amazing book. The stories Perry tells contain dozens of moments that are both hilarious and heart-wrenching—often within sentences of each other. The details about firefighting and working as an EMT are fascinating, as are the portraits Perry draws of various figures in the community—and of the community itself. He actually made me nostalgic for my tiny hometown—which, although twenty times bigger than Perry’s, still seemed stifling to me when I lived there. Perry’s writing revives in me a sort of innocent belief in American communities, although there’s nothing naïve or whitewashed about his portrayal of his town and its people. Infrastructure crumbles; petty cruelties persist; bad things happen, often to good people. But Perry, it seems, has found whatever secret thing it is that makes it worth it to go on. And there’s a taste of it here between these pages.(less)
Collection of short essays about the New York City subway. I suspect I would have enjoyed this book more if I’d only read one or two pieces a week—not...moreCollection of short essays about the New York City subway. I suspect I would have enjoyed this book more if I’d only read one or two pieces a week—not really feasible with a library book. Many of the essays are interesting, but read cover to cover, the collection becomes extremely monotonous. I also wish more of the writers had taken their essays to the next level: far too many are literally about the subway, with no connections made to larger themes. Really good essays, in my experience, tend to be about more than one thing—they have levels. (There’s a metaphor about the subway running beneath the city streets that I could go for here, but I’m not sure I have the energy.) Even for a book I came to with no expectations, this was underwhelming—not even worth reading to lighten the commute.(less)
Finally found a cheap copy of this to call my own, so I reread it in celebration. From what I’ve seen, a lot of people don’t click with this the same...moreFinally found a cheap copy of this to call my own, so I reread it in celebration. From what I’ve seen, a lot of people don’t click with this the same way they do with Stewart’s more recent Daily Show work, but there’s something about these comic essays that I find darkly satisfying. My favorite by far is “The New Judaism.” Haha, oh dear. It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.(less)
Exhibit A in the case for why every single vaguely snarky person who gets good laughs when telling stories at parties should not be encouraged to publ...moreExhibit A in the case for why every single vaguely snarky person who gets good laughs when telling stories at parties should not be encouraged to publish a memoir/collection of personal essays. Don’t get me wrong: Crosley is a perfectly decent writer, but her experiences are just so everyday that reading this collection, I found myself puzzled as to why I was encountering it in book form as opposed to on someone’s LJ or something. So she had a bad boss! She went to camp! She has a funny name! She had an unpleasant moving experience one time! So what? If Crosley were able to draw some particular insight from these experiences, that would be one thing, but she doesn’t. Nor is she uniquely, fall-off-the-couch funny—just sort of quietly amusing. And so the impression I’m left with is that I, or any number of my friends, could write this exact same book—and maybe do it better. Crosley was just smart or savvy or well-connected enough to land a publishing deal. Which, you know, props to her. But does it make her the second coming of David Sedaris, as a bunch of reviewers seem to think? No, it does not.(less)
A nice antidote to the Cormac McCarthy I read a couple weeks before. Myers takes on five critically acclaimed American authors, including McCarthy, w...moreA nice antidote to the Cormac McCarthy I read a couple weeks before. Myers takes on five critically acclaimed American authors, including McCarthy, with an argument against what he sees as the growing devotion to pretension among the American literary establishment. It’s not just the authors who are under fire here; if anything, Myers directs the bulk of his criticism toward critics themselves, who, he says, laud only the most convoluted, turgid prose stylists and continue to promote the same authors once they are accepted to be part of the literary elite. I have to say, I’m inclined toward Myers’ point of view. I don’t agree with everything he says, but I think he presents his argument clearly and amusingly and I have to admit that I’ve been equally puzzled as to why (to pick on poor Cormac again) long, difficult to parse passages about horses farting are considered great literature.
Myers also includes a chapter in which he rebuts his critics’ response to the original essay, published in a shorter form in The Atlantic Monthly. I tend to think that this sort of thing can too easily become petty and lower the tone of the overall discussion—it’s total “someone is wrong on the internet!” territory—but I empathize; a lot of the reactions Myers quotes do frustratingly miss the point, or read like they’re responding to another essay entirely. (Maybe Pierre Bayard’s way-less-enjoyable How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read?) Myers’ argument isn’t against reading—or even against “literature”; he did, admittedly, make me feel less inclined to pick up anything by Don DeLillo anytime soon, but he also made me really want to read some Balzac. Fair trade, I say.(less)
Essays by the author of Population: 485. I loved that book; it was one of my favorite things I read this year. This book is not nearly as good. It’s...moreEssays by the author of Population: 485. I loved that book; it was one of my favorite things I read this year. This book is not nearly as good. It’s really just a collection of some random magazine articles Perry wrote over the years, some of which are quite interesting, others not so much. A lot of them are about trucks. I used to edit car magazines for a living, and I have to say, when I’m not getting paid for it, reading essays about engines is not something I really want to spend time doing. Even when his topics are more diverse, none of these pieces is particularly electrifying. Perry’s a very good writer, but with these short snippets, he has nothing to build toward, and the effect is utterly unlike the amazing power of Population: 485. Read that instead.(less)