This book is every bit as addictive as the mountains of cocaine snorted by everyone in it. It's a 600-page book that I devoured in two days.
It's amazi...moreThis book is every bit as addictive as the mountains of cocaine snorted by everyone in it. It's a 600-page book that I devoured in two days.
It's amazing how it engenders a genuine nostalgia for a period it spends most of its time lambasting. The videos described here (most of which will be seared into the memory of anyone between the ages of 25 and 40) are ludicrous, nonsensical, and the utter opposite of subtle, and yet, who doesn't get downright giddy thinking of Duran Duran cavorting on a yacht?
By making this an oral history, Marks and Tannenbaum wisely let the principals do the talking, and what talking it is. Where else will you find a straight-faced explanation like this:
"On the set of 'Ooh Ooh Song,' I said, 'Hey, Marty get me a monkey.' And he said to his assistant, 'Let's get a monkey in here.' So the monkey was my idea. I don't know whose idea it was to have a mime in the video."
"Nobody else could come up with [the video for] 'Rock You Like a Hurricane.' You have to be German to come up with shit like that."
"It got to a point where the contract would say, 'You shall feature the lead singer 35 percent of the time in medium close-ups or close-ups.' And when you're hiring extras, you might be told that the singer's girlfriend didn't like the girl you're putting in the video because she's too pretty. Or, if you put guys in the video, they couldn't be better looking than the band. These are all things I was told."
You get all the rampant egos, the awe-inspiring drug use, the unchecked ambition, the unlimited expense accounts, all in the service of 3-minute videos featuring half-naked women with a Warrant song playing incidentally behind them.
There are also some intriguing storylines threaded through the book: MTV's canny business model (born out of necessity) that the record labels would give the network their videos for free, under the guise of "free exposure." Or how the directors of these iconic videos did not receive recognition come VMA time, or receive residuals for oft-rebroadcasted work. You also get the downright tragic story of one Billy "Stroke Me" Squier, whose legendarily awful video for "Rock Me Tonite" single-handedly brought down his career.
Is there some repetition? Yes. Could this book have been whittled down pretty easily? Sure. But why would you want to? It's about as much fun as I've had reading in a long time.
The book ends right as the first season of "The Real World" ends, signaling a sea change in philosophy and of course leading to the unwatchable dreck that passes for a television network now. That's as it should be: another 200 pages of musing from Carson Daly and Snooki don't quite hold the same appeal.
There are plenty of quotes from folks lamenting the demise of MTV, wishing a return to those halcyon days when your coolness was gauged by whether your parents had an MTV cable feed. Me, I just think it is what it is: even if MTV returned to playing videos 24/7, who would sit down and watch them? There's just too many other options. It's better to think of MTV fondly as a grand experiment that succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations, and like anything else, couldn't last forever. (less)
My full review for this novel will be published on review day (Jan. 17), but my general feeling is that Gottlieb took this literary psychological thri...moreMy full review for this novel will be published on review day (Jan. 17), but my general feeling is that Gottlieb took this literary psychological thriller about 3/4 of the way, but couldn't quite cross the finish line. The central figure informing the entire book, Margot, is rendered in a surprisingly shallow manner, and there's a fourth character hovering in Margot's orbit whose trajectory disappointed me. Gottlieb can write, though, and most of the book does glide along on an unsettling momentum.(less)
A fascinating Hall of Mirrors. A lot of inside baseball, but anyone interested in that stuff will find much to chew on. Some critics have blasted Malc...moreA fascinating Hall of Mirrors. A lot of inside baseball, but anyone interested in that stuff will find much to chew on. Some critics have blasted Malcolm for her rather shrill tone (to the point that it's become shtick), but I embraced her dry observations. It also raises a question that is sometimes taken for granted: Why would any subject, under any circumstances, want to talk to a journalist when he can't be legally compelled to and has no say whatsoever in the finished product? What's driving that motivation?
"Like the dupe in the Milgram deception, the naive subject of a book becomes so caught up in the enterprise and so emotionally invested in it that he simply cannot conceive of it in any terms other than those the writer has set for it. As the Milgram subject imagined he was 'helping' someone to learn, so MacDonald imagined he was 'helping' McGinniss write a book exonerating him of the crime, and presenting him as a kind of kitsch hero...When, instead, McGinniss wrote a book charging him with the crime, and presenting him as a kitsch villain...MacDonald was stunned." (p. 30)
Quoting author Joseph Wambaugh: "I've dealt with sociopaths, murderers, other horrible people -- as a cop and as a writer -- and by no means would I always tell them the truth, though I wouldn't lie to them. What's the difference between a lie and an untruth? Simple. With a lie, there's malice involved, there's ill will. With an untruth, there isn't." (p. 103)
"As I listened to Lucille Dillon, I felt more acutely conscious than ever of the surrealism that is at the heart of journalism. People tell journalists their stories as characters in dreams deliver their elliptical messages: without warning, without context, without concern for how odd they will sound when the dreamer awakens and repeats them." (p. 114)
"The reader extends a kind of credit to the writer of nonfiction which he doesn't extend to the writer of fiction, and for this reason the writer of nonfiction has to be punctilious about delivering the goods for which the reader has prepaid with his forbearance. Of course, there is no such thing as a work of pure factuality, any more than there is one of pure fictitiousness. As every work of fiction draws on life, so every work of nonfiction draws on art." (p. 154)(less)
An excerpt: The Twoweeks also sometimes feels too cute, almost stagy (although Cal, as an actor, would be accustomed to ascribing lofty names to parts of their story), and some readers may have trouble with some of the overstuffed prose.
The novel is not meant as an oversexed romance or a suspenseful melodrama. It is a sensitive, languid (perhaps too languid: despite its slim length the novel drags in places) story that is assured in what it wants to say. The Twoweeks is written by a veteran author who is not trying to dazzle with literary showmanship but with intimate storytelling.(less)
One of the blurbs on the back compared this to The Royal Tenenbaums, which is both deadly accurate and a bit misleading--thankfully, The Family Fang a...moreOne of the blurbs on the back compared this to The Royal Tenenbaums, which is both deadly accurate and a bit misleading--thankfully, The Family Fang avoids Wes Anderson's arch cuteness. The novel was actually a lot more substantial than I had assumed, and (view spoiler)[the big twist at the end with Annie and Buster realizing their parents' deaths is yet another art project (hide spoiler)] is really quite tragic.
The more I think about it, the more I like this book, so maybe at some point I'll upgrade the 3-star rating.["br"]>["br"]>(less)
An excerpt: There is no question that that Mr. Wiersema gets it. He has learned the trivia, logged the miles, and memorized the little details that come only from years of listening to sketchy bootleg recordings (I’m glad he’s not the only one who can tell what song the band will play simply by how Springsteen counts it off)—his credentials as a Springsteen diehard are ironclad.
But will Walk Like a Man appeal to a nonbeliever? Though there’s a lot of inside baseball, at root this is a book less about the Boss or how much the author digs him than it is about the nature of fandom itself, how people can forge inexplicable connections with one artist’s work.(less)
This review initially ran in the New York Journal of Books website. I reproduce it here:
While attending a dinner party in suburban London, a man named...moreThis review initially ran in the New York Journal of Books website. I reproduce it here:
While attending a dinner party in suburban London, a man named Miles Garth excuses himself after the main course, locks himself in his hostess’s spare room, and refuses to leave. He communicates by note and eats only what is passed through the bottom of the door.
Weeks go by and the exasperated homeowners contact the media, whereupon Miles becomes a tabloid sensation. Folks camp out on the street, ascribing causes for his mysterious behavior, awaiting a signal from their christened hero.
This is how Ali Smith sells you on There but for the, the quirky premise on the dust jacket that will attract you in the bookstore. Why is Miles doing this? one imagines it saying. What message is he trying to convey?
It may be something of a surprise, then, how little the figure informing every page of this sly, playful novel actually appears in it. Ms. Smith sets up her story only to glide around it with all manner of whimsical wordplay and tenderly drawn character sketches. It also serves as a satire, touching on issues of class and culture, particularly during the dinner party and in the reality TV-infused nature of the camped-out crowds.
There but for the is structured in four sections, each headed by one word of the title and devoted to a different character: Anna, an unemployed Scottish woman tasked by the party’s hostess to cull Miles out of the room; Mark, whose long-dead mother speaks to him in verse; May, an elderly woman whose fading mind has never moved past her teenage daughter’s death; and Brooke, the preternaturally gifted 10-year-old daughter of one of the guests.
Each of the characters has a peripheral relationship to Miles, and Ms. Smith, canny novelist that she is, does not spell them out. The four sections are sequenced and information doled out in a particular way that dawns on the reader only in retrospect.
Most of this, however, is surface-level narrative business, which is only one half of the equation. There But For The is also a language-lover’s dream, replete with word games and non sequiturs, dirty poetry, and knock-knock jokes, with narrative asides galore (the dinner party itself, ostensibly the book’s most important scene, is offered parenthetically).
Brooke, in particular, brims with a linguist’s flair for words and facts, their importance and their dexterity, with an enthusiasm so unbridled her teachers despise her. The overly clever child character can often seem contrived and annoying, but Ms. Smith pulls her off with aplomb. She is the book’s most memorable creation.
Everyone here indulges in a similar appreciation of language—everyone, that is, save the odious hosts of the party and their buffoonish guests, whose broad characterization is likely the There but for the’s most glaring weakness. The novel is more effective—and moving—when it sticks with the four more central characters and how their ideas of language have connected them with the world.
Consider this passage from May, who receives from a hospital visitor an old message with the words UNO HOO written on them and thinks back:
“Philip had bought May a camera for Christmas once. It was the latest thing, a Kodak disc, like a normal camera but a little round thing inside it instead of a spool . . . May still had it in its box in the top cupboard above the wardrobe. Keep it alive. Keep it with Kodak.
“Because it was a Christmas gift, it had a place on its cardboard box where you could write who it was to and who it was from. Next to To was May’s name, in Philip’s handwriting. Next to From he’d written UNO WHO, then crossed out with the pen the word WHO and written, under it, HOO. UNO HOO now meant more to May than any camera.”
This is a novel that isn’t read so much as unpacked, with a new layer revealing itself just as you get a handle on the previous one. But of course the question lingers: Why has Miles Garth locked himself in a room for months?
It is not spoiling anything to say we never find out; Ms. Smith has other agendas here. But she is well aware of the reader’s expectations and so she provides some veiled advice.
In the fourth section, Brooke has stumbled onto a used copy of Conrad’s The Secret Agent, inside of which a prior owner circled some of the words. Ever the fact-finder, Brooke wants to know why that person chose those words to circle, but of course there’s no way of knowing.
The mystery of the circled words consumes Brooke, causes her to lose sleep, until her mother tells her that “if she wanted to read that book and not be annoyed by the not-knowing, she would either just have to persuade herself, right now, to put up with the not-knowing, or she would have to make the active decision to rub out the circles that made the words stand out for whatever their unknowable reason.”
Readers of There but for the have a similar choice to make. They can either be frustrated by the willful withholding of answers and the narrative diversions, or they can surrender to Ms. Smith and let her unique, infectious writing style wash over them.
This review originally ran in the New York Journal of Books website. I reproduce it here:
It may be hard for someone who bought a copy in 1991 to belie...moreThis review originally ran in the New York Journal of Books website. I reproduce it here:
It may be hard for someone who bought a copy in 1991 to believe, but Nirvana’s Nevermind turned 20 in September. To mark the occasion, the band’s surviving members gave the album the full commemorative treatment, releasing a trove of archival material to satiate the faithful. And they’re not the only ones: Pearl Jam is celebrating its own 20-year anniversary with a similar merchandising victory lap.
Listening to Nevermind and Ten 20 years later, one is compelled to feel this music represented something—an ethos or an authenticity—that we desperately needed, a tonic to the overindulged Eighties. That Nirvana and Pearl Jam could conquer the mainstream, if only for a short while, seems like our culture got something right.
Did these bands, and the countless others that came to dominate early-90s radio, have any idea that by 2011 they’d have moved into the Nostalgia phase of their careers, their music fully canonized, their biographies a piece of mythology?
Tyler McMahon has obviously spent time wondering the same thing. His novel How the Mistakes Were Made is a fiercely affectionate rendering of that period right before the general public was hungry for the Nirvanas and the Pearl Jams but hadn’t heard them yet to know it.
It charts the rise and fall of a small Seattle band that catapulted to unforeseen heights before internal drama caused them to implode, a story that’s as well-trodden as a three-chord rock song. But How the Mistakes Were Made is also a book that deals with the unspoken contract between performers and the fans that support them—and what happens when that contract is broken.
Laura Loss is a woman ambling through her 20s, working in a coffee shop by day, chugging away by night in yet another band she’s scrounged together. Dubbed “The First Lady of Punk” for her role in one of the 1980s’ most revered hardcore bands, she is now prepared to turn the page and accept a full-time manager’s job.
Before her band headlines a set at a Montana club, Laura hears two flannel-clad slackers take the stage and likes what she hears, especially how Nathan’s orderly bass playing complements Sean’s unique, chaotic guitar sound. “If you ditch that drummer and get serious, you two could be on to something,” she tells them, offering help if they ever make it to Seattle.
Awed by Laura’s punk ancestry, Nathan and Sean soon come calling. She agrees to play drums until the two boys get it out of their systems, but a funny thing happens when they play live for the first time: They’re explosively good—despite the glib name Laura assigns the band.
The Mistakes are armed with two secret weapons: an anthemic single that anyone who hears it once can immediately sing back, and Sean, their magnetic lead guitarist. Thanks to a neurological condition called synesthesia, he is literally able to “see” the music, in which notes and riffs appear as colors, lending him an unrivaled stage presence.
Things move quickly for the Mistakes: They sign with a small label. They record an album. They continue touring. The crowds get louder; the demand grows bigger. The buzz is overwhelming. Finally their record label gives them the news: The Mistakes have the number-one album in America.
And the band begins to unravel.
On one level, any astute viewer of “Behind the Music” will be prepared for Mistake’s rhythms, its almost fated trajectory. Nothing in its back half comes as a surprise, particuarly if the reader wants to draw parallels between the Mistakes and Nirvana. The booze, the jealousy, the acrimony—it’s all in there.
As Laura tells the story of the Mistakes, she flashes back to her seminal first band, which had been fronted by her brother Anthony. What happens to that band (and her brother) will not be spoiled here, but it provides the fuel for her often combative narration, imbuing an otherwise straightforward story with added depth.
Laura presents her story as a confessional, a defense against fans who blame her for breaking up their beloved Mistakes. “I don’t mind the hate,” she says. “It doesn’t bother me anymore. There was a time when I was adored by the same brain-dead sheep who despise me now.” But despite the scars she carries, she has not lost her wide-eyed romanticism about music and its power to resonate with listeners on a gut level.
Laura’s narration is the best thing about the novel, but it does come with a cost: None of the characters are portrayed as vividly as she. Sean is the closest Mistakes comes to cliché: that of the troubled but gifted artist whose candle shone brightest before burning out. His synethesia helps make the Mistakes great, but since we only experience it as a function of how it affects the band, it does carry the whiff of contrivance.
How the Mistakes Were Made will connect with anyone who believes in the endless possibilities of the three-minute pop song: that the right combination of words and music could genuinely change your life.
As Laura puts it, “I want them to lose themselves in the music . . . I want them to feel three chords resonate deep in their bones, with some words screamed out over the top that—for a moment or two—make them feel a little less lonely.” That feeling seeps through every page of this deeply personal novel.(less)
One of the reviews I read (this one: http://avc.lu/r3ywSr) compared this book to David Fincher's film Zodiac, which ended up being more about the obse...moreOne of the reviews I read (this one: http://avc.lu/r3ywSr) compared this book to David Fincher's film Zodiac, which ended up being more about the obsession of the pursuit than it was the actual crimes themselves.
I can totally see that. The first section of Skyjack is a tense, expertly reconstructed account of the infamous 1971 hijacking. The rest becomes less about Cooper than about the truly memorable cast of characters who have been consumed by the so-called Cooper Curse, those who have taken it upon themselves to make finding Cooper their lives' work. The author slowly transitions from curious reporter to one of the obsessed, to the point where he's living alone in a cabin trying to fish clues out of cheesecake recipes.
Some of Gray's prose is a bit overcooked, as he really plays up the noir angle of the story. But if you're not familiar with the almost-mythical tale of D.B. Cooper, this book will fascinate you.(less)
This 4-star rating is based entirely on sentiment. The rhetoric is not particularly elegant, and as Sanders notes, there's a lot of repetition, so thi...moreThis 4-star rating is based entirely on sentiment. The rhetoric is not particularly elegant, and as Sanders notes, there's a lot of repetition, so this is what it is: a document, for the record, of one senator's attempt to derail a lousy tax bill squeezed through at the end of 2010. I'm not sure it'll end up in Library of America's next Great Speeches installment, but it's a much-needed shot of populist outrage.(less)
An excerpt: If this novel has one significant drawback, it’s that even if the particulars remain unknown, its general trajectory follows a path familiar to anyone versed in dystopian stories. The broad satire of the first half gives way to much more sinister developments in the second, and its thrilling conclusion feels almost preordained.
Mr. Magary is a writer for Deadspin, a website that offers sports news in short, snarky bursts, and indeed, much of his novel is meant for similar consumption. It never spends too much time in one place—or one time period—and its pace rarely lags. But filtering these events through one person sometimes narrows the true scope of the premise. Our only glimpse into the worldwide effects of a death cure are periodic news roundups Farrell assembles, but those aren’t much longer than Twitter posts.
The Postmortal is essentially a book of ideas attached to a futuristic thriller, but its best ones provide enough empirical evidence to restore death’s reputation.(less)
This review initially ran in the New York Journal of Books website. I reproduce it here:
One afternoon during the recent heat wave, you decide to get o...moreThis review initially ran in the New York Journal of Books website. I reproduce it here:
One afternoon during the recent heat wave, you decide to get out of your muggy house and into the industrial-strength air-conditioning of the one local corporate bookstore/coffee shops still standing. With latte in hand, you browse the new releases when one of the titles catches your eye.
No Rest for the Dead, it says, and it doesn’t have one author but 26 of them. It’s not an anthology, but a single story with each author handling a chapter—a literary game of Telephone.
Curiosity piqued, you flip over the book and see the list of contributors, a who’s who of commercial fiction: Alexander McCall Smith, Jeffery Deaver, Sandra Brown, R.L. Stine, et al. Titans of the publishing industry—all of them.
Impressed with the caliber of talent assembled, you eagerly get out your wallet and stand in line. Browsing further, you’re presented with an introduction by thriller writer extraordinaire David Baldacci, who compares this lineup with that of the 1927 Yankees and you, who in addition to a mystery connoisseur are also something of a baseball scholar, wonder which of these authors is meant to be Ruth and which Gehrig.
“It is startling,” Mr. Baldacci writes, “how these writers . . . have woven a yarn that seems to be the product of one mind, one imagination (albeit schizophrenic), and one on steroids of such strength that even Major League Baseball would ban them.”
Strained analogy aside, you’re relieved that your biggest fear about this kind of project—whether having so many hands in the broth would lead to a disjointed narrative—has been allayed, and you feel confident you’re making a smart purchase. Even better, it’s been written for charity—the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society—so it’ll be 25 bucks well spent (less, it turns out, because you’re using your Special Platinum Dedicated Consumer Membership card).
You take your new book to the town pool, and after you lay out your towel and apply your lotion, you read the first sentence, supplied by the book’s co-editor Andrew Gulli:
“There is always that case, the one that keeps me awake at night, the one that got away.”
You read on effortlessly. You’ve read this kind of story before—a mystery based on regret and lost opportunity, with redemption waiting for our heroes on the other side—and you can’t wait to see what these authors do with it.
When the book begins, Rosemary Thomas is being put to death for the murder of her husband Christopher, a curator at a San Francisco art museum and serial philanderer who was found decomposing in an iron maiden that was shipped to Germany.
At the execution is Detective Jon Nunn, who provided key testimony that helped convict Rosemary, despite his doubts that she committed the crime at all. (Since the book exists, you safely assume Nunn is on to something.)
The narrative flashes back two years, before the murder, to give you an idea of the kind of guy Christopher Thomas was, to describe his deteriorating marriage to Rosemary and his dalliances with pretty art colleagues in more detail, and to lay out the characters that will pop up later.
Then the book jumps to the present day. Rosemary has been dead 10 years and, in her will, requested a memorial service be held for a select audience, mainly family and acquaintances from the art world, all of whom you were introduced to in the opening chapters.
Nunn, now a disgraced former cop whose vocation these days is drinking, thinks the person really responsible for Christopher’s murder would arouse too much suspicion if he didn’t come. He views the memorial as a chance to unmask the real killer, granting justice to Rosemary and redemption for himself.
And so you read on, happily settling into the book’s rhythms. After you arrive at the climactic memorial scene reuniting all the book’s main players, you smile at the big plot twist, which you admit was deployed skillfully without coming out of nowhere.
By the end, you feel satisfied, your expectations met. You give credit to the editors for successfully merging 26 authors’ voices into one consistent voice, making your reading experience a seamless one.
But after you’ve left the pool and you’re back home, it occurs to you with some dismay that you’re hard-pressed to remember any author’s particular contribution (with the possible exception of Bones author Kathy Reichs, who provides police and forensic reports about the deceased). You open random pages and realize you can’t tell who wrote which chapter.
The book, you conclude, is something of a contradiction: you were afraid that the myriad voices would lead to a fractured narrative, but in fact, by making the voices uniform, the editors unwittingly subverted the big selling point of the whole enterprise.
There is nothing tonally different from, say, the chapter written by Diana Gabaldon (who writes the fantastical Outlander series) to the one offered by Jeff Lindsay (who created everyone’s favorite serial killer Dexter Morgan). There is nothing that puts an individual stamp on each installment or leads you to seek out an author’s work based on her contribution here.
You also start wondering what No Rest for the Dead might have looked like if far more unique mystery/thriller authors such as James Ellroy and Don Winslow had participated. Would they have put a fresh spin on the story, or would their voices have also been reined in?
Then you feel bad for bashing a book that seems to have been a three-year labor of love. One written for charity, no less. What you were promised—a fast-paced murder mystery filled with action and suspense—is what was delivered.
You might have been forgiven for expecting something more memorable given the number of A-list authors involved, but you can’t blame them for producing in tandem the same kind of book they produce individually.(less)
This is a pretty sneaky book, in that you think it's going to be primarily about one thing, but it kind of snakes around to something else by the end....moreThis is a pretty sneaky book, in that you think it's going to be primarily about one thing, but it kind of snakes around to something else by the end. Ronson's anxious personality is a good fit to describe what seems like a generic checklist to root out psychopaths; it's endearing reading how he does, does not, and does believe he and the people around him may be one because they somewhat meet the checklist's vague criteria (e.g., prone to boredom). You see the true power that diagnosing someone with a disorder can have on the rest of that patient's life, and the catch-22 implicit in the diagnosis: Once you're diagnosed as psychopathic, any attempt to persuade someone you're not is seen as further evidence of your psychopathy.
The subtitle of this book is A Journey Through the Madness Industry, and the fact that identifying and treating such madness has become a lucrative business for some raises important questions. Perhaps the most fascinating chapter is toward the end when Ronson describes the almost comical way the DSM-IV (and prior editions) was devised, and how catch-all disorders (such as bipolar) have been casually diagnosed to the detriment of many children. And there's an anecdote about a reality show contestant who was left high and dry at the absolute worst moment that is heartbreaking.
Ultimately, this is not a book about psychopaths so much as our fascination with them and with the term itself, and how a public service to try to identify who among us might be psychopathic (and therefore untreatable) is anything but an exact science.(less)
This is a pretty good book...Grodstein deftly strings you along as you try to figure out the book's central mystery; namely, how the narrator ruined h...moreThis is a pretty good book...Grodstein deftly strings you along as you try to figure out the book's central mystery; namely, how the narrator ruined his life. The answer, when it comes, is well-nigh ridiculous, but I guess not totally implausible.
I'd rate the book higher except the narrator, more than anything else, is lame, and I found his overall lameness more unforgivable than any of his actual transgressions. Cloying and tone-deaf, he's one of those guys who thinks he's a genuinely nice person but is really a simmering stew of resentments and perceived slights; one character late in the novel cuts him down to size quite efficiently and true to form he loses his shit, his carefully crafted self-image having been eviscerated. (less)
What a deliciously peculiar novel, a witty, subtle satire not so much of workplace life but of the mind-numbing vocabulary that goes with it. Don't be...moreWhat a deliciously peculiar novel, a witty, subtle satire not so much of workplace life but of the mind-numbing vocabulary that goes with it. Don't be scared off if the first few chapters are hard to get into; after a while the sheer assault of cliches and business platitudes will take on its own poetic rhythm. That it's in the service of a plotline as absurd as the Lightning Rod just makes the whole thing funnier.
This novel reminded me a bit of Nicholson Baker's House of Holes. Both deal frankly with sex, and though the language of Lightning Rods isn't nearly as explicit as House's, they do share a sort of aw-shucks innocence. In fact, if anyone were going to create a place like the House of Holes that people could slip into, Joe (the mastermind behind the Lightning Rods) would definitely be the guy.
An excerpt: It also manages another impressive feat: It’s an unabashed, full-throated baseball novel that stays just general enough to appeal to those with no interest or knowledge of the game. Like The Natural, its most obvious antecedent, The Art of Fielding has everything and nothing to do with baseball, using the national pastime to explore questions of dreams, desires, and how we reconcile the two. (less)
An enjoyable read...Browne does a good job explaining the interconnectedness of these four acts, though it's kind of a Cliff's Notes rundown of each b...moreAn enjoyable read...Browne does a good job explaining the interconnectedness of these four acts, though it's kind of a Cliff's Notes rundown of each band. If you want to skip the book, I think I can encapsulate it for you: rampant egos, petty jealousies, awe-inspiring drug intakes, and in the case of CSNY, musical chair girlfriends, all happening during a time of social upheaval and protest. And oh yes, the music, the best of which still sounds fresh and timeless.(less)
An excerpt: This is all presented without judgment or condescension from Mr. Perrotta, whose lack of moralizing on behalf of his characters is one of his finest attributes (recall the sensitive portrayal of the neighborhood pedophile in his book Little Children; he ended up coming off better than the reactionary suburbanites who made his life miserable).
Unfortunately, Mr. Perrotta’s characters here are often too generic to require any moralizing. Kevin, for one, is such an affable guy, polished at every angle with good intentions, that he is rendered wholly forgettable.(less)
This dazzling collection of short stories impressed me more than any other I've read probably since I read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, a mo...moreThis dazzling collection of short stories impressed me more than any other I've read probably since I read Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, a modern classic, a few years ago. I fear that without the weighty subject of Vietnam to carry it, Daniel Orozco's collection may not have the staying power O'Brien's does, and that Orientation will fall through the cracks. That would be a shame.
Each of these nine stories has something to offer, some off-kilter take on everyday life, a vivid re-imagining of a famous life, a stunning panorama of an American city at a pivotal moment -- and it's all jam-packed into 160 drum-tight pages. The title story demands to be read out loud, preferably by someone with a deadpan delivery, as a seemingly innocuous first-day welcome to the office turns into something much more bizarre (and darkly hilarious). "Hunger Tales," a quartet of pieces detailing a group of characters' relationships to food, is heartbreaking and identifiable in unsettling ways. And "Officers Weep," which tracks the nascent romance of two police officers through their dry entries in a police blotter, is so clever that I think I read it with a smile glued to my face, which, if you know me, is a bit out of character.
Maybe that's Orozco's finest achievement here: he's clever without feeling clever, experimental while still tethered to the traditional short story form. His stories aren't drowning in irony and abstraction, and neither are his characters abstractions; they feel real, lived-in. Now and then he served up a line that slayed me, like this one, from a story about a woman's travails as an office temp: "She had moved into an echelon of temporary service attained by few, which conferred upon her the Agency's most coveted emblems of appreciation: the Exceptional Performance Pin and the assurance of permanent temporary employment." I don't know about you, but that line makes me laugh. If it makes you laugh, chances are this book is for you.(less)
The recent shooting of the Arizona congresswoman and her constituents led to an outpouring of appreciation for...morePoor Jodie Foster, that's all I can say.
The recent shooting of the Arizona congresswoman and her constituents led to an outpouring of appreciation for the split-second bravery for those on scene and the unflappable precision of the hospital personnel who saved her life. A similar feeling of gratitude can go out to the folks depicted in this book, a breathless narrative about Ronald Reagan's near-assassination; Rawhide Down often feels more like a commendation than a dry recitation of facts.
It is only because of those individuals who made rapid-fire, informed decisions on behalf of the president and the three others wounded in Hinckley's attack that March 30, 1981, did not become a date as famous as Nov. 22, 1963, and December 8, 1980. But Wilber's book makes you realize how close history came to changing forever.(less)