Eric is a self-doubting kid whose plight is no different than many: he's quiet, shy and can't figure out girls. Because he's somewhat of an outcast—aEric is a self-doubting kid whose plight is no different than many: he's quiet, shy and can't figure out girls. Because he's somewhat of an outcast—a status conveyed after a private book containing field notes about girls in his class gets into the wrong hands—he spends most days sequestered in a remote bathroom, eating his lunch on the toilet. He also gets really into computer programming, which ends up serving him well later in life, when he becomes a start-up millionaire.
Most of the book are his flashbacks to awkward, painful and overly neurotic analysis of his younger years. As an adult, he's still trying to figure out girls, but starts to gain the emotional maturity one needs to be present in a relationship.
This book was pretty damn funny—I was most amused by Eric's bungled attempt to do Ecstasy with a girl he has the hots for, but, instead, getting stuck with her less-attractive friend. He reveals a personally humiliating fact about himself and is panic-stricken for weeks about what will be done with the information.
Though I know little about Gabriel Roth as an author (this is his debut novel) most of the dialogue and situations rang true, particularly if you spent time as an outcast in school (haven't most of us at some point?). ...more
This may be the first time I've ever read a book entirely devoted to drugs that bored me to tears.
I suppose I was expecting more focus on the addictsThis may be the first time I've ever read a book entirely devoted to drugs that bored me to tears.
I suppose I was expecting more focus on the addicts themselves as opposed to a sociological commentary on drugs in rural communities and U.S. drug policy which *spoiler alert* is not nearly as dramatic as the graphic descriptions given by meth addicts who have blown up their mother's houses and most of their skin after seeing human heads that were police informants hanging on trees outside their trailer window.
With a buildup like that, the rest is just a huge letdown....more
If the scenario in The Circle plays out, I'm totally fleeing to my cabin in remote Alaska and loading up all my guns before the drones can get to me.
SIf the scenario in The Circle plays out, I'm totally fleeing to my cabin in remote Alaska and loading up all my guns before the drones can get to me.
Seriously, though, I was totally suckered into reading this by its seductive premise; young girl desperately wants to escape her dead-end job at a public utility after swallowing her pride to return home after college. Eventually, the soul-crushing despair of working for shit-for-brains losers leads her to beg her friend for a job at a company that sounds a lot like Schmoogle. This part totally spoke to me, really, because I spent way too many years in a series of similar, menial, completely brainless jobs and would have sold my soul to the devil to escape had I been presented with any other career option that didn't include buzzing people into an office or greeting them cheerily ***spoiler alert on my life story*** I didn't usually make it beyond the two month mark.
But I digress.
Soon enough, what seems to Mae like a ticket out of hell turns into a living nightmare, though she's too starry-eyed by the numerous distractions, basketball courts, indoor swimming pools and swiveling library/secret rooms to really give a flying fuck about the company's nefarious future plans.
But, yeah, a lot of this story just seemed a bit terse, forced, I don't know, like those old Davy and Goliath cartoons from the '60s with the strange wooden figurines and their awkward motions and visible puppet strings (if you have no idea what I'm talking about there's always Google). The idea that she would be so utterly starstruck by this company, enough not to question the fact that her job and life merged into one cohesive lump after only a few months, I don't really buy that. I also don't believe that people would just magically fall into line with whatever this Mae chick had to say. Yeah, I get that people are really into revealing ridiculous, nay, too much personal information about themselves online these days and, (moral message), if we're not careful, yes, we could eventually get used to making everything public. Bathroom cams!!! But would it happen that quickly, that easily, based on one company's ridiculous ideas? I'm certainly hoping that the answer is a resounding hell no.
I hope to God that we won't all be a nation of idiots smiling and nodding at our headsets in the years to come.
Mae felt a surging pride in them, in the Circle, at attracting pure souls like this. They were open. They were truthful.
His fingers were typing furiously, fluidly, almost silently as he simultaneously answered customer queries and survey questions. 'No, no, smile, frown,' he said, nodding with a quick and effortless pace. 'Yes, yes, no, Cancun, deep-sea-diving, upscale resort, breakaway weekend, January, meh, three, two, smile'...more
I couldn't put this book down. Diaz's characters aren't the most likable or might not have the most redeeming qualities. As noted in other reviews, maI couldn't put this book down. Diaz's characters aren't the most likable or might not have the most redeeming qualities. As noted in other reviews, many of the men in this novel chase tail like it's a job (Google 'Do Dominican men cheat?' for a full range of opinions on the matter).
But reading this book through the lens of American culture might not be the best thing. For what it's worth, I think Diaz is trying to provide his audience with an accurate yet critical portrayal of Dominican culture—warts and all—which I think can be tough to do if you're essentially writing about your own people and are super-conflicted about how you feel. One thing that I think Diaz does beautifully is talk about the struggle that immigrants go through when they come to the U.S. for a better life, leaving behind friends, family and everything else that's familiar for an uncertain outcome.
She tells me that she's been sick, that she's had to move twice, that her housemates have stolen her money. She has the scared, hunted look of the unlucky.
There's a yearning that Diaz's characters always have to return to their homeland under different circumstances, despite the horrors of their past lives.
How for an undisclosed sum her mother had married her off at thirteen to a stingy fifty-year-old; how after a couple years of that terribleness she got the chance to jump from Las Matas de Farfan to Newark, brought over by a tia who wanted her to take care of her retarded son and bedridden husband; how she had run away from her, too, because she hadn't come to Nueba Yol to to be a slave to anyone, not anymore.
For me, reading a Diaz novel is like cultural immersion, it's a window into a world I don't get much exposure to. For that, I am grateful. And it doesn't hurt that I grew up in NJ and went to Rutgers too....more
I worry about illness a lot. Coughing kids spewing germs, public bathrooms and airplanes are all harbingers of doom and sickness as far as I'm concernI worry about illness a lot. Coughing kids spewing germs, public bathrooms and airplanes are all harbingers of doom and sickness as far as I'm concerned and should be avoided as much as possible. I wash my hands often and for at least 30 seconds at a clip, and almost never leave the bathroom without kicking in the door rather than touching the handle.
That being said, I am also fascinated by the study of diseases, its origins and treatments. As a child, I used to read the Merck Manuel cover to cover, my heart beating erratically while I self-diagnosed myself into an early grave. Luckily I made a miraculous recovery from every disease I had, and, well, I guess there's a reason I never went into the medical field.
But about the book. I find that a lot of scientists are not the best writers. Not sure why, but maybe it has something to do with the left brain being all high functioning and the right brain getting sort of underutilized. David Quammen seems to shatter that stereotype though. I'm not sure if this is because he previously wrote for magazines, but he's one of the most engaging, witty and interesting nonfiction writers I've ever encountered.
The title kind of spells out what the book is about; tracing the origins of several different major viruses as they spread from animals to human hosts. It covers all the big, scary ones like Ebola, SARS, AIDS, detailing where scientists think they came from and how they crossed over to humans. Clearly the crossover potential is a lot greater when humans disturb or destroy a wild animal's habitat, essentially forcing the animals to interact with humans in ways they never did previously. But it's also much more complicated than that. Some viruses exist in an animal for many years, but don't cause illness until they cross over to another species (like SARS). Pigs can get sick by eating fruit that bats (a reservoir of one virus) drooled on. The pig is put in close confinement with other animals that can also become infected, and, consequently, affect humans. Yet another argument against the evils of factory farming.
What I found most surprising was how early AIDS made an appearance in humans—according to the book, the earliest known person may have contracted it , presumably from a chimp, in 1908 in Cameroon. From there, it lay dormant for decades, until the 1970s, when social mores changed and people moved to major cities in the Congo. Haitian expats came to Congo to work as lawyers, doctors and teachers and some contracted HIV. When they returned to Haiti, it started spreading through the blood supply, and then doctors in the U.S. started noticing strange patterns of sickness among Haitian-born patients.
So should we be scared? Another big pandemic is certainly possible, warns Quammen. But why spend your life worrying? We all have to die sometime....more
I think there was a lot of offense taken at this book's advice, something along the lines of How dare you tell me that I'm not doing enough to furtheI think there was a lot of offense taken at this book's advice, something along the lines of How dare you tell me that I'm not doing enough to further the cause of women advancing in the workplace when you're a multi-billionaire that can afford not to work or, if you do, can hire a team of nannies to watch your kids!
I get that backlash and I get that maybe a lot of women were offended that Sheryl Sandberg kind of implies that they are to blame for not getting ahead when there's clearly so much in the way of institutional and workplace biases against women already, perhaps we should be focusing on that and not beating people up for not being more committed to their jobs.
I don't necessarily think she's beating women up for not being "ambitious" or "dedicated enough to their careers." I mean, maybe she is in that way that some people give you a backhanded compliment like, "It's good for you," but, honestly, I seriously doubt it.
Anyway, I guess my initial reaction was, "Wow, this woman works...a lot" and she clearly loves her job because she was on email almost immediately after giving birth. That's dedication! Maybe that's part of what offended people because that should totally not be the expectation at all. Maybe that's also where the disconnect comes in because comes in because most women are not running Facebook or Yahoo and, quite frankly, probably pretty happy to just hang out with their kid as long as possible until their maternity leave is over, assuming they actually get one.
But I don't think she's being all judgey and preachy like some parenting website "You must do this or you are a terrible mother, worker, human being, etc..." I think she's just trying to let women know that, look, you worked really hard to get where you are, don't start sabotaging your opportunities or winding down years in advance of having kids or getting married because you assume that you won't be able to combine the two. Because, there may be a way to make it all work and, even if there's not, we should all support each other's decisions and not launch full-on, vitriol-spewing, knock-down, drag-out fights on the internet in order to assuage our own guilt and insecurities about the decisions we've made to go back to work or stay home.
Maybe I'm just really cynical, but I didn't see how this story was so extraordinary. The notion of living "off the grid" is certainly not a new concepMaybe I'm just really cynical, but I didn't see how this story was so extraordinary. The notion of living "off the grid" is certainly not a new concept, particularly during the '60s when people were living on communes or in the desert to protest the establishment.
Perhaps the story is so poignant because Chris seemingly had a perfect life, with parents that supported him financially, an education and unlimited potential, yet he chose to reject it all. He was not a political prisoner nor was he even an outcast or part of a larger political movement. He was bored, he was idealistic, he was adventurous and independent; he made mistakes and probably had no intention of surviving in the woods indefinitely, hence his lack of preparation. Like any other young, idealistic kid, he couldn't see his own mortality and acted impulsively.
Perhaps this explanation is too simplistic, but I don't think there was much more to it than that. He resisted authority and people telling him what to do, and seemed to ignore anyone's advice to perhaps prepare better for his trek into the wilderness. The reality is, he never got further than about 6 miles from civilization.
I think the author felt a kinship to Chris based on his similar experiences as a youth, however, I'm not sure the story was compelling enough to warrant both a book and a movie. ...more
I visited Michigan for a wedding about five years ago, before the true media firestorm and fascination with the decline and fall of Detroit began.
As wI visited Michigan for a wedding about five years ago, before the true media firestorm and fascination with the decline and fall of Detroit began.
As we drove a rented car through the streets of the once-grand city, Detroit's resemblance to any war torn area in the Middle East became more and more apparent. Each block was worse than the one before it; boarded-up storefronts; homes covered with graffiti, shards of glass and garbage, gaping open like infected wounds; and, even eerier, an almost total lack of human presence. The one sign of human life I did see was a woman that was little more than skin and bones, dressed in lingerie and stiletto heels, limp along a garbage-strewn boulevard overgrown with grass and weeds, past a hotel whose glory days were far behind it. It was 2 p.m. on a weekday.
Venturing farther into a more residential area, the signs of neglect were still obvious—half-burnt houses whose charred remains made them a magnet for transient drug addicts and gangs interspersed with homes where people were still struggling to survive— but people were now everywhere, riding bikes, sitting on sagging porches and pulling up slowly to us in cars with tinted windows.
It was pretty bad then and I'm sure it's only gotten worse. Charlie LeDuff, a former NY Times reporter and Detroit resident, confirms that not only have the city's poverty and rate of violent crime increased sharply, most of its residents have either died or left within the past decade, bankrupting the government and taking any hope of revitalization with them.
The statistics are grim: Only about 25 percent of kids graduate from high school; an overwhelming number of Detroit officials have been locked up for embezzling funds and corruption; public budgets have been slashed so severely that police and emergency personnel often take a 1/2 hour or more to respond, if they respond at all.
So many residents have left the city—there are 750K now from 1.9 million a decade ago—that some have proposed converting large swaths of the city to farmland.
The prospects are bleak for Detroit and LeDuff minces no words in telling us this.
Circling back to Detroit was instinct, like a salmon needing to swim upstream because he is genetically encoded to do so.
But it also could be a Candyland from a reporter's perspective. Decay. Mile after mile of rotting buildings, murder, leftover people. One fucking depressing, dysfunctional big glowing ball of color.
Why not admit it? I am a reporter. A leech. A merchant of misery.
LeDuff tells the story of Detroit from the perspective of someone who has seen his own family members struggle with poverty, unemployment, drug addiction, and, eventually, death as a result of the city's fall from glory. Rather than heap more pity on its residents, he's angry, so angry that he publicly humiliates city officials who waste taxpayer funds on Cadillac Escalades and expensive suits, while firefighters don't have working alarms or functional equipment. He takes a picture of a man's body, ensconced in ice, at the bottom of an elevator shaft in an abandoned building. It takes five calls to 911 before police come to remove the body.
The headline read: Frozen in Indifference. The lede read: The city has not always been a gentle place, but a series of events over the past few, frigid days causes one to wonder how cold the collective heart has grown.
The book was an eye-opener to me, illuminating a lot of background into why Detroit is where it is. It's not an exhaustive explanation by any means, but it sheds some light on the history of corruption and nepotism that helped bring the city to its knees once the money from the auto plants had disappeared.
I did deduct one star for the author's tendency to self-aggrandize, which was somewhat distracting. Otherwise, it's a sensitive and in-depth look at one of the most dangerous cities in the US. ...more
It's really difficult to rate an author on the quality of their memoir, I think, because you end up essentially criticizing the experiences they had iIt's really difficult to rate an author on the quality of their memoir, I think, because you end up essentially criticizing the experiences they had in life that they chose to write about. I suppose you could question why they chose at all to write the book, but you can't knock someone for attempting to tell their life story in a truthful manner. In this case, there's nothing that exciting that stands out as "Wow, you should have written a book about that" but, nevertheless, the writing is lyrical, deeply profound and illuminates many facets of the human condition, much like the poetry she's better known for.
My one teeny-tiny criticism involves the title story "An Enlarged Heart." It's about her young daughter's experience with a rare disease that makes her incredibly sick and prone to complications, namely, heart problems. Other than my initial reaction of "Why didn't she take her daughter to the hospital sooner instead of wasting time at home and at a doctor's office?" I was rendered speechless by Zarin's incredibly insensitive response to her daughter's roommate in the hospital, a disabled child.
Her arms hit out at nothing and her arms are oddly flaccid. Her ears are too big for her face, and the lobes are pointed. How terrible, I am thinking, to bear such a child.
Her sensitive rendering of her daughter's illness and the accompanying fears all parents have about the horror of their child's demise didn't really mesh with what seemed to be a harsh judgment of someone whose situation was unfixable and sad, not worthy of criticism.
Other passages are beautiful:
The houses I have known on the Cape are more elaborate: bigger, more entrenched in the dream of summer passed down from aunts and cousins, vested in the idea of permanence and perfection: the hurricane lamp; the curtain with its hokey pattern of seashells. ...more
Competition for most fucked-up-life is always bittersweet, I suppose. There's one too many memoirs out there that reek of conceited, look-at-me and hoCompetition for most fucked-up-life is always bittersweet, I suppose. There's one too many memoirs out there that reek of conceited, look-at-me and how fucked up and drug addicted I am, Cat Marnell-style self importance and far too few that don't milk their bad experiences in life for maximum shock value and/or career boosting ability.
I think Domenica Ruta kind of falls somewhere in the middle of all this. She definitely had a shitty life—there's no denying or sugarcoating that fact. Things that stick out in my mind: her mother having her daughter watch while she makes a failed attempt to bash someone's windshield in with a crowbar; her mother feeding her OxyCodones for headaches and probably contributing to her alcoholism later in life and, of course, refusing to listen when her daughter told her she was sexually abused by a family friend. Given this background, though, I wouldn't say she wallows in victimhood nor whines about her experience. Her narrative voice is very sardonic and witty in a way that doesn't make me think she's burying these experiences in her subconscious or belittling their meaning. Because she attends a boarding school and college out of state, I think this gives her a safe place to reflect on her life, make sense of the things that have happened to her and realize that she is not fated to the same existence as her mother who, by the way, absurdly suggests that her daughter get pregnant in high school so that she "has another baby" to raise (her mother).
I docked a star for the later chapters that deal with her descent into alcoholism and struggle to stay clean. For me, those chapters were veering way too far in the direction of humblebrag, ego stroking bad experiences like "I drank two bottles of whiskey today and puked all night" yet was able to write a novel and complete an MFA, look at how brilliant I must be! Maybe it's just that there are too many memoirs being written by alcoholic/drug addicted overachievers like Elizabeth Wurtzel and not enough being written by ordinary people battling addictions (although, I suppose the overachievers are the ones ambitious enough to write books and think that people would be interested enough to read them).
But, damn, this book was funny.
I didn't have many friends growing up; then I hit puberty and things got even worse. Here begins my angry phase, the self-centered, quietly homicidal years, that special hiccup of time between my first bra and my first joint. Fortunately for my peers, I spent most of my time free time during childhood and early adolescence sleeping.
"Why aren't you making friends?" Mum asked me. "Maybe you smell bad, Honey. Do you wear deodorant?"...more
I should stay that, first and foremost, I am a member of the Karen Russell fan club. I was lulled into a semi-narcotic, fluttery state of being with hI should stay that, first and foremost, I am a member of the Karen Russell fan club. I was lulled into a semi-narcotic, fluttery state of being with her first novel, her words sounding to me like the soft tinkling of cow bells in the Swiss Alps as you lay sprawled out in a bed of soft daisies starting at sky that is remarkably free of clouds. I've heard Russell described as "a writer's writer" and, for that, I love her.
But, my jets may have cooled for the moment.
Russell's knack for description and dark sense of humor never fails to impress me. I even liked "The Barn at the End of Our Term," about a bunch of ex-presidents resurrected as horses, purely for its absurdity. "Vampires in the Lemon Grove," was an unlikely vampire story about two vamps that meet, fall in love, and ponder the meaning of eternal life. That's all I'll say because I really didn't like it.
"Dougbert Shackleton's Rules for Antarctic Tailgating," was not really a story, but more of an Onion-like rambling about how one should support a team of plankton "competing" against a beluga whale as to whether or not they would be food. Suggestions include dressing up like a plankton and screaming into the water to get them to move faster, which, again, I found quite funny, if only for its absurdity. There was definitely a whiff of McSweeney's in this, so I can see how some people might have found it pretentious and awkward.
In "The New Veterans," a lonely massage therapist attempts to massage out the pain of a young veteran's traumatic combat experience, transferring his memories of an attack by a roadside bomb into her own mind by some sort of fantastical osmosis. The nightmares infuse her with a new purpose in life and become, strangely enough, like a burden that she proudly bears, knowing that she's absorbed his pain. It's a story with great depth despite its strange premise.
Russell seems to be very influenced by the Southern Gothic tradition of strange and stranger. ...more
I, like many others, have always assumed that the what appears to be the limitless wealth of the Saudi kingdom via enormous oil reserves has, naturallI, like many others, have always assumed that the what appears to be the limitless wealth of the Saudi kingdom via enormous oil reserves has, naturally, trickled down to most citizens. What little glimpses we do get of Saudi society often focus on the giant, American-style mega malls, restaurants and gyms that have cropped up in major cities, suggesting both modernity and much discretionary income, despite the fact that, by law, women still can't drive and must cover up from head to toe each time they leave the house.
The sad reality, however, as the author details, is that Saudi Arabia is a dismal place despite this artifice of prosperity. Up to 60% of the population is unemployed! With a failing educational system, approximately 50% of the population cannot read or write. Most workers are imported from outside the country to perform work that native Saudis deem as "unworthy." Although education, health care and gas (almost) are free, there is very little incentive to make either the school or the health care system effective or efficient, and both suffer.
The ruling family, by contrast, send their offspring out of the country to be educated and, upon their return, set them up with cushy government jobs, which causes resentment among the majority of Saudis, many of whom can't even afford a home or a better quality of life. I guess that makes that Youtube video I stumbled upon of a Saudi prince screeching away from a Paris sidewalk in his gold Ferrari kind of messed up even though the engine sounds like some kind of jungle cat waiting to pounce on its prey or something.
It's a glimpse into a society that's so regulated and reliant on tradition—most do not socialize or interact with anyone outside their immediate family, according to the author who spent many years entrenched in the culture—that an elaborate farewell ritual to family and friends before going on vacation can take longer than the vacation itself. Women are relegated to jobs that will not put them into contact with men.
And, although this all sounds kind of depressing and makes me glad I live in the old US of A, the author suggests that change is possible if one of the younger, more modern princes comes into power and is willing to make reforms. Even if that happens, she warns that change will take a very long time.
As of late, I've been noticing a strange sight in NYC—the appearance of many bushily-bearded men, clad in woolen plaid lumberjack shirts, their pantsAs of late, I've been noticing a strange sight in NYC—the appearance of many bushily-bearded men, clad in woolen plaid lumberjack shirts, their pants held up by suspenders as they saunter through the urban wilderness that is Brooklyn waiting to fell a tree or, perhaps, to whittle a trinket for a lovely lady, should the mood strike them. They can often be found in the local watering hole that specializes in artisanal beers or attempting to start a campfire in the park while simultaneously being harassed by the homeless population for enroaching on their turf. What a bunch of urban whistle punks.
True North is the opposite of the faux-rustic trendiness that's plaguing the NYC boroughs, taking place in the rugged corner of Michigan known as the Upper Peninsula or "UP." It's the story of the scion of a wealthy timber family whose dysfunctional upbringing causes him to reject not only the moneyed class privilege he grew up with but the methods by which that wealth was acquired. His father—a morally repugnant sexual offender who exclusively preys on underage girls—seems to glide through life with ease, buffered by his ability to pay his way out of nearly every transgression. As David, the son, drifts aimlessly through life, he gradually realizes that the anger and hostility he feels toward his father is holding him hostage.
One thing that I think that's worth mentioning is how the theme of solitude is treated here. I think all too often in literature the solitary character is meant to invoke the reader's pity and sympathy...generally, we're supposed to feel sorry for someone who chooses to spend their time alone because it couldn't possibly be a choice they willingly made, but one that was made for them based on some abnormality or personality quirk. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. The lone cowboy on the plains of some dust-ridden prairie or an adventurer scouting uncharted territory would seem to inspire more of a rugged individualism than be an object of scorn.
Here, the loneliness of one man is drowned out by the largesse of the landscape. He is no longer an individual, he is a small part of a much larger universe....more
Retirement homes can be godawful, depressing places where the smell of bodily functions gone awry lingers in the air long enough to remind people thatRetirement homes can be godawful, depressing places where the smell of bodily functions gone awry lingers in the air long enough to remind people that death is always looming. Despite the sunny euphemisms sometimes used to describe these places, which I think are more for the guilt-wracked family member's benefit more than anything, not many old folks with their wits still about them long to go there.
Ok, so I'm really hungry right now and this review will have to be short and sweet. Harry Crews reminds me of a dirty old man who likes to fantasize about weird sorts of transgressive encounters between deformed and/or otherwise socially compromised members of society such as amputees or old people. It can get really awkward and messy...in fact, I promise you it will get really awkward and messy and will force you to rethink any hang ups you had about stumps (the human kind).