This is the kind of book that I often lose interest in, and sometimes walk away from wishing it were a magazine article instead. But that didn't happeThis is the kind of book that I often lose interest in, and sometimes walk away from wishing it were a magazine article instead. But that didn't happen here, and it's a credit to Binelli's talents as a storyteller. This is a terrific portrait of a city in decline and its attempts at rebirth or redefinition. It covers everything from the history of Detroit to the downfall and quasi-resurrection of the auto industry to Detroit techno to the burgeoning arts movement to the miserable state of Detroit's public schools to the much-publicized urban farming scene in Detroit. I recommend it for anyone interested in seeing the possible end of America, but also to people looking for insights into how a city works. I mentioned while reading it that it reminded me of The Wire, and I stand by that comparison.
I had read a review of this that called it "Fifty Bajillion Shades of Grey," and while I only read the first few pages of Fifty Shades, I can see theI had read a review of this that called it "Fifty Bajillion Shades of Grey," and while I only read the first few pages of Fifty Shades, I can see the similarities. Both are erotic concerned with female sexuality and control and freedom and how that sexuality manifests itself. There are probably other similarities, but not having made it far into the one book, I can't elaborate on them, but I'm going to guess that E.L. James never busts out the Hegel in her book.
Maidenhead is the story of Myra, a sixteen-year-old Canadian girl who uses the occasion of a disastrous family vacation to Key West to dive headfirst into her own burgeoning sexuality. She becomes enthralled with a Tanzanian man named Elijah. Elijah follows Myra to Canada where her family is dissolving, and seduces her. Sort of.
I haven't really any idea how I'm supposed to feel about Myra's relationship with Elijah (and his girlfriend, Gayle). It's not purely exploitative, though one could easily argue that exploitation happens. It's not exactly abusive, though there is abuse. While Myra becomes more and more involved with Elijah and Gayle, she simultaneously composes an essay about sex slaves, pornography, and freedom. Does this sound confounding? Because it sometimes is.
What most interests me about this book, though, is the meta-commentary happening throughout. At first, the two people commenting on Myra's adventures and misadventures seem like deities or extra-textual characters, but this is not the case. One of them is Lee, Myra's new friend, and the other is the aforementioned Gayle. At times, they have omniscient knowledge of Myra's thoughts, feelings, even where the plot is heading. What does it mean?
My take is that female sexuality comes, at least early in life (and maybe, sadly, always) with a healthy dose of judginess from your friends and enemies and frienemies, and then with the accompanying shame. Lee and Gayle don't just comment on Myra's actions, they attack her. Each of them takes turns critiquing Myra's choices. Neither of them seems wholly comfortable with what Myra wants to become, sexually. As a reader, there were moments when I found myself agreeing with them, a part of their chorus. And then I felt bad about that. So their commentary made me feel complicit in a systematic critique of how and why Myra liked to get fucked. Does that make sense?
This is a very cerebral erotic novel, and I suspect it will be with me for some time to come....more
I have been meaning to write a long review of this book, because I think there's a lot in it to pull out and examine, but I am a busy man, and it doesI have been meaning to write a long review of this book, because I think there's a lot in it to pull out and examine, but I am a busy man, and it doesn't look like that's going to happen. So in lieu of something more meaningful, let me just say that I defy you not to like this book. Oppen Porter, the narrator of Panorama City, is so endearing, so charming that by page five, you'll be completely engrossed. I always have a thing about "likeability" with regards fictional characters. The short version of the story is that I don't need it to enjoy a book. I can read a book about an asshole and love it just as much as something with "people to root for" or whatever. But Oppen is the kind of character even I couldn't help but love.
One of the best books of the year, and a triumph of first-person narration. Read it!...more
I had a dream a few nights ago that I was living in Hollywood. I don't mean to say that I'd moved back to that horrible, horrible apartment I lived inI had a dream a few nights ago that I was living in Hollywood. I don't mean to say that I'd moved back to that horrible, horrible apartment I lived in for years in the early 2000s, but rather that I was in the entertainment industry. More specifically, everyone I knew--from my friends, to my sister, to one of my co-workers--had been cast in a movie. It was a big musical, the kind they don't make anymore, really, and it was all anybody could talk about. One day, I rode to work with my sister and Bradley Cooper in a gondola sort of contraption that lifted us high over the 10 freeway. And then Bradley Cooper told me I was fat, and I told him I could kick his ass. And then I woke up. And fuck Bradley Cooper, seriously.
I digress. What I loved about this book -- aside from its easy prose, its sure-handed sense of character -- was the descriptions of the kind of Hollywood I dreamed about. Laura Lamont, formerly Elsa Emerson, moves from Wisconsin to LA to become a movie star, and then, well, she does. And of course there are fabulous things to be described: her house in Beverly Hills, the lot at Gardner Brothers (the studio that made her a star), her marriage to studio chief Irving Green (One thing I never really realized before reading this book -- actors didn't need agents during the studio system's heyday because the studio called all the shots). But there is also the cruelty of that world, the way that world could just forget you. Straub writes about both sides of Hollywood here and the effect is wonderful.
There are two very difficult kinds of novels to pull off. One is the novel that takes place in one day. The other is the novel that takes place in a lifetime. This is the latter, and it's done very well. I think the second half is stronger than the first half, as the real pleasure of the book is seeing what becomes of Laura and her children (I found the son, Junior, especially well-drawn). Despite being movie stars and moguls, the characters felt very real to me throughout.
[Full disclosure: I know and really, really love Emma Straub, the author of this book, so I'm incapable of objectivity here. Still, I think you should read Emma's work. I, for one, can't wait for her next book.]...more
This was a fun read that tickled the nonfiction part of my brain in pleasant ways. It felt a bit repetitive in parts, and I found myself wondering howThis was a fun read that tickled the nonfiction part of my brain in pleasant ways. It felt a bit repetitive in parts, and I found myself wondering how various chapters (such as the chess chapter) related to the whole. In the end, I'll take from this book the need to think probabilistically in life, and Bayes' theorem, about which I knew little. The chapter on terrorism was an excellent ending to the book, as it not only tied the concepts together, but it also made apparent the stakes in predicting the future. The McLaughlin Group, for instance, gets to keep coming back each week, even though their predictions are laughably bad. When you're trying to guess whether a terrorist might nuke New York...well, you kind of have to be more right about that.
Still, I'm not sure this book quite added up to the sum of its parts. For instance, after reading about the super-skilled sports gambler, I didn't have any better idea how he did what he did than I had before reading the chapter. Perhaps he wouldn't tell Silver his secrets, I don't know. I doubt my predictions will get much better from having read this book, either (though I wonder whether that was the goal of the book or now). I'd still recommend it to anyone with a love of charts, a thirst for interesting data-driven nonfiction, or anyone looking for something to shake up their reading list with something a little different....more
This was a fun read. I enjoyed Eli, the narrator, and his take on life. The book has a propulsive quality that just hurls the reader forward. Many ofThis was a fun read. I enjoyed Eli, the narrator, and his take on life. The book has a propulsive quality that just hurls the reader forward. Many of the chapters end in a cliffhanger or teaser of the next chapter, which has the effect of forcing you to keep turning the pages. Great pacing and very fun characters.
It isn't a 5-star book for me because I just didn't think there was that much happening beneath the surface. I suppose the book has an odd morality that is interesting to parse, but it lacked the subtlety of something like Butcher's Crossing, another Western I enjoyed and recommend. Whereas Butcher's Crossing felt like it was very much about the American West (capitalization needed) and what the West has meant to the psyche of this country, particularly its male citizens, The Sisters Brothers felt like it was about...the Sisters Brothers. Another quibble is that there was very little description in this book. I could picture the scenes, but there wasn't much page space given about where we were or what it looked like. This is probably another reason the book read so fast.
This was a fun picaresque Western with plenty of plot twists and a few memorable characters (and some very fine Tombstone-esque dialog). If you go into it with that in mind, I think you'll enjoy it tremendously....more
This is the best music book since Our Band Could Be Your Life. If you're a fan of Will Oldham, in his many incarnations, this is the book you've beenThis is the best music book since Our Band Could Be Your Life. If you're a fan of Will Oldham, in his many incarnations, this is the book you've been waiting for -- an in-depth look at Oldham's life, creative process, and philosophy. A book-length interview between Oldham and his sometimes collaborator, guitarist Alan Licht, this book covers every aspect of his career, including his acting work. All of his albums -- Palace and Bonnie "Prince" Billy -- get a thorough examination. This was eye-opening for me, and it made me consider some of my favorite songs of his again from a new perspective. For that alone, the book is a 5-star read.
But if you're not necessarily a fan of Oldham, I still think you'd enjoy this book. It's a rumination on the creative process and the current "indie" cultural scene in America. Oldham is clearly a sort of "super-connector" or whatever the Gladwellian term is, as he crosses paths with seemingly countless indie celebrities, including but not limited to Steve Albini, screenwriter D.V. DeVincentis (High Fidelity), Johnny Cash, Bjork, Jem Cohen (documentary filmmaker), John Sayles, Harmony Korine, R. Kelly, PJ Harvey, Marianne Faithful, David Berman, and Michelle Williams. One of the more interesting aspects of his career is that he often puts them to work as musicians, regardless of their previous experience in music, a tactic which earns the comparison to John Cassavetes that Licht makes. Korine plays on a BPB record, and I once saw D.V. DeVincentis accompany BPB on tenor saxophone at the El Rey Theater in LA.
I went into this book with an idea of Will Oldham. It was an idea of him as a reclusive nut, but a genius. An oddball who probably lived in the woods and didn't own a car. I was completely wrong about everything except the part about him being odd and a genius. He is odd, whether he would recognize it or it not, and he's a kind of genius, I think. One of the great pleasures of this book is reading his philosophies on everything from live music to alcohol.
On alcohol: "It seems like alcohol is related to poisoning and deadening and turning things off, after the second drink. The first two drinks are great, and I recommend them to anybody for any reason, and I have no respect for teetotalers who deny themselves one drink a week or one drink a day even, unless they have an alcohol problem. But after that second drink…it seems like a little suicide every day…"
On auto-tune: "I don't mind T-Paid, and I don't mind the huge Cher single years ago -- I don't have anything against Auto-Tuning -- but when it's Auto-Tuning with the idea that you're making the audience think that it's your voice, your singing, I tend to think that's a little weird."
On shared tastes: "I went and saw Total Recall  in one of those weekend sneak previews the week before it opened, and I was like "I love this movie, and this feels great." I love a movie that millions of other people like. It makes me very happy, even though they probably like it for a different reason. But my fantasy is, that even if they do like it for another reason, that there's a relationship and the beginning of the ability to communicate with other people about something: we can talk about Total Recall."
That's just a taste. The entire book is packed full of observations, insights, and just plain greatness. I can't recommend it enough....more
I bought this book on a whim from Emily Books, and it serves as a testament to the power of curation. I'd never heard of the book or the author, but bI bought this book on a whim from Emily Books, and it serves as a testament to the power of curation. I'd never heard of the book or the author, but because Emily Books was carrying it, I was willing to take a chance. It's also an argument for the ebook, in the sense that I bought it, found myself on the bus having just finished a book, and decided to give it a shot. And there it was.
If the book hadn't hooked me from the first page, I probably would've shut it down, scanned Twitter and listened to The Replacements the whole way home. And I would've been happy. But I'm happier that I kept reading this book.
From page one, I was completely enthralled with the main character. A young woman living in Chicago and trying to play professional beach volleyball. What about that premise doesn't hook you immediately? How about if the main character is also suffering from an eating disorder and is simultaneously incredibly funny and wracked with insecurity? Not doing it for you yet? How about if I throw in some futures trading on the commodity exchange floor?
Okay. Enough of this belabored conceit. The point is that Making Scenes has an incredibly odd mix of settings and events happening, and it only serves to make the book feel more real. The main character will be with me for awhile, I think. When I was reading this, I had the feeling of simultaneously knowing the character and also maybe not knowing her at all. She's full of contradictions and not in the bullshit "I contain multitudes" sort of way that we traditionally think of complex characters. Rather, she reacts to events in her life in ways that were amusing, dismaying, disturbing, and ultimately authentic. She makes the kind of irrational, confounding decisions we all make.
I loved passages like this:
"I wait for the plane to take off. After initial turbulence, I put down the tray to write a list -- People who I wish had died instead of me and Andy breaking up:
John Cassavete's used to do this impression of someone watching one of his movies for the first time, how they would resist because the experience was so different from watching a Hollywood movie of that era. That was kind of what reading this book was like for me. I had no idea where it was going, and yet it had a narrative drive that made me want to read and read and read (present tense and a shitton of sex scenes probably helped with that). This was a character that felt human, and I couldn't stop reading about her. Highly recommended....more