I realized I've fallen terribly, terribly behind on my Goodreads reviews. Anyway, trying to get caught up.
I'm a Kate Christensen super fan, so my opinI realized I've fallen terribly, terribly behind on my Goodreads reviews. Anyway, trying to get caught up.
I'm a Kate Christensen super fan, so my opinion might be a touch biased. I've always admired the way she's written about food in her fiction, so this was right up my alley. The book really picked up after Christensen's childhood was over (important though that was to describe). Christensen is such a great stylist that even sections that didn't hold my attention with narrative drive were fun to read.
Weirdly enough, the food writing in this didn't jump out at me....more
A fascinating meditation on memory and narrative. Denise is the sister of Nik, a rock star in his own mind and obsessive chronicler of his own stardomA fascinating meditation on memory and narrative. Denise is the sister of Nik, a rock star in his own mind and obsessive chronicler of his own stardom. The prose in this book is wonderful. Lots of people mention Don DeLillo as an influence (and he's thanked in the acknowledgments), and I can see why. The mixture of sparse, declarative sentences with more angular stuff really makes the paragraphs click.
I found myself thinking a lot about Daniel Johnston, the great singer/songwriter/outsider artist from Austin whose songs have a major cult following. It's never entirely clear how much recognition Nik has in the music world. I think it's entirely possible the only people who listen to his music are Denise and her daughter. But if his music is good, it seems very likely that it's good in the timeless, pop-y way that Johnston's is good.
That I read this book in a narcotic haze after surgery only added to the effect that Spiotta is able to spin here.
Recommended for anyone who loves rock and roll, punk, underground culture, etc. Also a great companion piece to another great book that tackles memory, narrative, and rock, albeit in a very different manner, A Visit from the Goon Squad....more
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