It feels awful to rate a book as deeply personal as this just "liked it," but what can you do. Maybe it is because what was most compelling for me her...moreIt feels awful to rate a book as deeply personal as this just "liked it," but what can you do. Maybe it is because what was most compelling for me here -- depressing what this probably says about me -- were the glimpses "behind the scenes" so to speak of her essays and journalism. Didion often talks about herself in her early writing, but her husband is most often viewed only as a switch to the first-person plural ("we" did x, y, or z) and her daughter as "the baby." So it had for me this weird, dualistic quality of oh hey, I remember when they were in Bogota! And I couldn't get over that what became the first part of "In the Islands" was a column for Life magazine.
I don't know. I had anticipated that this book would evoke strong feelings for me, but for some reason I just felt kept at arm's length. I wonder also though if when I'm reading it makes a difference, knowing how the daughter's story turns out -- though I feel like that should've added to the tension, not reduced it. I don't know. I just kept finding myself dwelling on how cool their life together sounded (something I do with her journalism as well). Even when things aren't going well, it's a glamorous not-going-well -- bad news following a funeral on a Beverly Hills tennis court, a wet dress from an ill-advised bit of party-planning at one's Brentwood home, landslides but oh wait they're in Malibu. I want to read Blue Nights though still, to see if that gets to me. (less)
This is a hard one to rate, because the best pieces are so good, but there are weaker ones, and they tend toward the judgmental and pedantic. Elements...moreThis is a hard one to rate, because the best pieces are so good, but there are weaker ones, and they tend toward the judgmental and pedantic. Elements of "Goodbye to All That" have stuck with me, hard, since I first read it more than ten years ago, and much of it resonates all the more now that I'm older and have made the same NY to CA move (though other parts don't jibe as much for me -- I had a lot more trouble and a lot less wonder I think when I lived in NYC). And of course, there's the title piece. Even though I prefer her SoCal writing to her NorCal, that's a tough one to deny. In all though, I was surprised to find that on the whole, I think I liked The White Album better.
(I should mention also though that I have a much cuter edition of this -- older paperback with vaguely psychedelic butterfly motifs. Also should mention I'm aware this isn't much of a review, but I'm tired.)(less)
If you mainly know Douthat from his stint as the conservative op-ed voice on the New York Times, you'll be surprised how reasonable he comes off here,...moreIf you mainly know Douthat from his stint as the conservative op-ed voice on the New York Times, you'll be surprised how reasonable he comes off here, in a book that reads more like a memoir than a cultural critique. Don't worry though, he still lets his conservative cred show. This is particularly the case in the chapter meant to excoriate the naked careerism and bloodthirsty networking of Harvard students and their summer internships, which turns out to be a rhapsodic account of time spent in the company of William F. Buckley, Jr. He keeps it just center enough to make this a reasonable read for liberals (particularly those whom Douthat describes as "parlor liberals"), while at the same time making his right-wing bona fides shine through.
Though surprisingly entertaining, this book could have as easily been titled "Biting the Hand That Feeds You: Life as an A- in a World of A's." Luckily for Douthat, being an A- at Harvard isn't that bad -- clearly, since in just a few years he's leapfrogged from the National Review to the Atlantic Monthly and then the New York Times. Nonetheless, many of the sections -- while cleverly skewering the predilections of his pampered classmates -- read like sad-sack Charlie Brown stories. Hamden Hall instead of Choate, really? Aw Ross, you didn't get into a final club? Ohh, poor Ross. Even Smith girls won't make out with you! Though he frequently points out this tension himself (and it carries through to the final page), Douthat's continual attraction to all things Harvard outweighs his repulsion, and thus adds a grain of salt to his excoriating words. How different would this book be if he'd gotten into Porcellian, or didn't resemble a character from his beloved Tolkien?
Long story short, yes, he's right -- elite universities (and colleges) are bastions of well, elitism. It is who you know, where you went, and so on. At the same time though, if we all know who you know, where you went, and where you've wound up, too much complaining looks more like sour grapes than a clear-eyed critique.(less)
According to the opening page of this book: "Magical Thinking: A schizotypal personality disorder attributing to one's own actions something that had...moreAccording to the opening page of this book: "Magical Thinking: A schizotypal personality disorder attributing to one's own actions something that had nothing to do with him or her and thus assuming that one has a greater influence over events than is actually the case." Hmm, this doesn't sound like anyone we know... and yeah this came out like a year before the Joan Didion book The Year of Magical Thinking, so apparently it is a cultural trope and not just a popular page in the DSM IV.
I bought this book basically cause it was on clearance for like, $2 or something.AB is almost incurably pretentious -- there's way too much of just like, throwing in a totally revolting sentence into an otherwise dull paragraph just to be like, "subversive" or whatever. Not that I've never done that, but he does it like, every other paragraph. When he can't find any suitably repulsive detail within a given situation, it just reverts to like, "I've smoked a lot of crack in my life." So what, do you want a medal? If this guy met me he'd punch me in the face. If I didn't punch him first. This is also one of those rare books that I did not hang onto, I traded it in at a local bookstore.(less)