While I enjoyed Hogan's analysis of the various earthworks and site-specific pieces she visited, the last section of the book lost momentum in a very...moreWhile I enjoyed Hogan's analysis of the various earthworks and site-specific pieces she visited, the last section of the book lost momentum in a very disappointing way. Considering the book is short to begin with, I wonder if maybe she would have been better off writing a series of essays on the art works, instead of attempting to weave her responses and history lessons into a longer narrative. This is a flawed project, but I'm glad I read it. 2.5 stars (less)
To be honest, I was shocked to find myself reading a Jodi Picoult novel, having always associated her with that brand of writers who embrace the maudl...moreTo be honest, I was shocked to find myself reading a Jodi Picoult novel, having always associated her with that brand of writers who embrace the maudlin and drown their readers in vats of excess grief. So, on one level, this book was much, much better than I was expecting it to be. The premise is solid, and some of the characterizations work very well. Picoult, however, just doesn't know when to stop. There are pointless subplots that detract from the novel's momentum and are just plain irritating, when all is said and done. Also, the ending is one of the worst I have encountered recently. Bah! Grrr! Sigh.(less)
I originally read Perks during my soph. year of college. I had just gotten my wisdom teeth removed, so there were powerful sedatives in my system. In...moreI originally read Perks during my soph. year of college. I had just gotten my wisdom teeth removed, so there were powerful sedatives in my system. In other words, I'm glad I took the time to re-read this little gem. Due to Chbosky's writing, a lot of the details managed to penetrate my impaired brain the first time. I'd glossed over some fairly major themes, though.
I'm curious to see how the movie adaptation turns out. (less)
I was very impressed by this book. Initially, I was worried that the text's focus on personal narrative would corrupt Demick's methodology, or perhaps...moreI was very impressed by this book. Initially, I was worried that the text's focus on personal narrative would corrupt Demick's methodology, or perhaps overshadow a more sociological/historical perspective on North Korea. However, my fears were unnecessary. Demick gracefully integrated her well-researched coverage of North Korea's present situation and history with the accounts of people who possess experiential knowledge of the events. I really respect Demick for allowing her case studies to reveal certain things about NK's human rights violations and ideological dysfunction. Rather than assuming a didactic or judgmental stance towards NK, Demick constructs a nuanced portrait of this unique and troubling nation based the memories and stories of six people whose lives express more than a litany of theories, statistics, and dates ever could.(less)
I think the power of this book emanates from the way in which Steinberg avoids navel gazing. Clearly, Running the Books is his memoir. However, the bo...moreI think the power of this book emanates from the way in which Steinberg avoids navel gazing. Clearly, Running the Books is his memoir. However, the book also nurtures a dialogic dynamic between Steinberg's experiences and those of the inmates he interacts with in the prison library. To some extent, it is as much about them as it is about him. He also does a very good job of contextualizing these relationships - giving the reader ample insight into how prison, as both a physical space and a total institution, shapes the identities of its prisoners and its employees. Rather than exoticizing or "othering" the inmates, Steinberg reveals that his time spent in the prison library undermines the clear cut distinction between the servant (or employee) and prisoner. It is the prison system itself that seems to present the greatest threat to Steinberg and his library's patrons.
I also enjoyed Steinberg's tendency to contemplate the role of a library in prison. Is it there to enlighten inmates and/or contribute to their reformation? Or is it merely there to sedate them and help the time pass more rapidly? Although these questions appear early in Running, they are indirectly alluded to throughout the text. They are also questions which can be slightly modified and directed towards public library systems. Are we here to help people expand their frames of reference? To stimulate and inspire? Or to peddle book and DVD versions of Soma?
My primary criticisms of this memoir have to do with its structure and length. First of all, I don't think this book needs to be 400 pages. There are definitely places that could have been trimmed to enhance overall coherence and flow. Secondly, there are several moments where Steinberg's personal backstory is not addressed when it should be. For example, it isn't until LATE in the book (page 288, I think) that we discover that our narrator once flirted with street life as a young teen. When his parents relocated and he found himself in a more challenging scholastic environment, these impulses apparently subsided. However, the fact that he has some familiarity with truancy, left, and disruptive behavior radically alters how we understand his relationships in prison. If revealed earlier in the text, it could help offset the paternalism one could read into his identification with certain prisoners. But I digress. Overall, this was a surprisingly good book. I hope Mr. Steinberg writes more in the future.(less)
I could rant about this book and my problems with it, but I'll try to be concise here. First of all, I don't think this work deserved to win the Natio...moreI could rant about this book and my problems with it, but I'll try to be concise here. First of all, I don't think this work deserved to win the National Book Award for non-fiction. While I haven't read everything that was nominated, I did read Nothing to Envy, which trumped Just Kids in terms of structure, content, and style.
Smith uses her memoir to explore her relationship with art and artists. The most prominent figure (besides Smith) is, of course, the late Robert Mapplethorpe. Initially, Just Kids appears to be an honest reflection on one woman’s journey to find her artistic direction. If only the entire book came across that way. While the first section of the book is fairly solid, Smith's tone becomes increasingly self-aggrandizing as the work progresses. As a consequence, the second half of the book is outright obnoxious and Smith’s life seems to effortlessly fall into place. For example, most of her encounters with other artists and cultural icons can be reduced to this formula:
Someone (Ginsberg, Hendrix, Sam Shepherd) sees Smith and says something, to which she responds with some witticism. After this brief exchange, the other artist feels inexplicably compelled to help Smith or invite her to work on a project with him/her. From there, everything’s just awesome. I'm sorry, but I just can't suspend my disbelief enough to buy this template. Maybe this happened to her once. But over and over again?? Give me a fucking break.
There are also strange moments where Smith's history is corrupted within the memoir itself. For example, in the final section of the book, she says she is carrying her second child. Actually, she is pregnant with the second child she has with her husband. Since she was pregnant as a teenager (and gave the child up for adoption), the child in question is actually her third. I'm probably being overly critical, but I think the entire memoir is fraught with Smith's revisions of both her past and Mapplethorpe's. Since he is no longer capable of telling his own story, I feel that Smith appropriates his biography, manipulating it to suit her own purposes. I am unsure of Smith's intentions, so I can't really argue that she's exploiting Mapplethorpe's life story. I am uncomfortable with the power dynamic that emerges between Smith's autobiography and her narration of Mapplethorpe's life, however. (less)
Paul Harding's first novel, Tinkers, contains a lot of lyrical power and grace. While I don't think it necessarily deserved to win a Pulitizer Prize,...morePaul Harding's first novel, Tinkers, contains a lot of lyrical power and grace. While I don't think it necessarily deserved to win a Pulitizer Prize, it does make me very excited to read Harding's future work. (less)