Slipping riotously through time like a virus loose in the bloodstream and touching on everything from show tunesOriginally appeared in Lambda Literary
Slipping riotously through time like a virus loose in the bloodstream and touching on everything from show tunes and divas (the variety that plays the Met, not top 40 radio) to cruising spots and tanning advice, does James McCourt’s latest book, Lasting City, live up to its cheeky designation: “The anatomy of nostalgia”? Absolutely.
Any summary of a work like this requires a caveat: Summary misses the point entirely. Suffice it to say, our narrator (the author) heeds his dying mother’s advice to “tell everything.” Notably, there was no mandate to tell it chronologically. Instead, McCourt’s inventive take on the memoir organizes itself—if at all—around free-association word games, punning off of popular expressions. One memorable passage takes up the various ways Kid can be used, as in -gloves, -napped, etc. It’s equal parts Joyce and Faulkner’s Benji with a little Proust tossed in for seasoning. But at the heart of this discursive remembrance of things past is the lasting city itself. Post-war New York. Its provenance is traced and its culture catalogued. The latter most entertainingly in erudite anecdotes about the Great White Way, a scene the author’s mother, Kitty, was intimately familiar with. Like New York City, McCourt’s unconventional memoir feels like a work simultaneously complete and still in progress. It’s antic and self-referential, desperate and at peace, existing in its entirety on each page. It’s a circle. It’s a black hole. A tautology. And it’s very good, though not without its frustrations. Close reading is a requirement, as is a willingness to allow the unfamiliar to wash over you. This book is chockablock full of insider information that will reward the cultural anthropologist.
I loved this book! It's been on my shelf for a couple of years, but I finally got around to reading it after seeing the Ashton Kutcher movie. NaturallI loved this book! It's been on my shelf for a couple of years, but I finally got around to reading it after seeing the Ashton Kutcher movie. Naturally, the book was better. It's chockablock full of great insights into Jobs' personality, management style, and product and business philosophies. He was an ass, which is old news by now, but I was continually impressed with the heights of his stubbornness. I tend to be less forgiving of these faults than others, and that's probably because I never knew him. There are better ways to motivate people than by constantly berating them. Yes, Jobs' approach produced results, but that's no proof that an alternative approach wouldn't have. It was simply his personality to bulldoze and insult.
His real genius was in his laser focus on products. The philosophy at Apple is to make a handful of key products, and to make them perfect. Jobs perhaps better than anyone else was willing to take whatever risks (no matter the cost) to ensure that his company's products were perfect and delightful. It'll be interesting to see how Apple continues without his leadership. I will say that I recently upgraded to iOS7 for my iPhone and iPad and have been continually asking myself "Would Steve have done this?" about various features. My takeaway is that one should always insist on excellence. People are capable of great things, we just need to stay focused on giving our best performance.
In short, Jobs was a big-time visionary with a lot of faults who nevertheless produced some of the most iconic products of his era. I feel bad for the people who had to live with him though, especially his adopted sister, Patty. She showed up exactly twice in the book and the second time was as an unfavorable comparison to his biological sister, Mona Simpson. I don't know anything about that relationship, but I get the feeling it wasn't too rosy.
I read this while on vacation in Japan. The story was pretty interesting, but I didn't give it the attention that it demanded, so I missed about halfI read this while on vacation in Japan. The story was pretty interesting, but I didn't give it the attention that it demanded, so I missed about half of it. Still, an enjoyable read and a high-minded mystery in the style of Paul Auster.
I wanted to like this, but ultimately it wasn't for me.
The first half was a pretty standard sea tale consisting of weather updates, sea conditions, eI wanted to like this, but ultimately it wasn't for me.
The first half was a pretty standard sea tale consisting of weather updates, sea conditions, etc—your basic log entry stuff—peppered in over a lot of talk about the freedom of the sea and the sort of vague spirituality that engenders. Not bad. There were a few choice quotes and moments of rumination. But the second half really went off the hippy-dippy deep end. There was a lot of talk about the "Monster," which, as best as I can figure, is the personification of humanity's avarice. There's a fine line between working with technology—say embracing a boat designed to harness the wind for the express purpose of allowing a yachtsman to circumnavigate the globe single-handedly—and decrying technology's ability to divorce mankind from nature. Moitessier chooses instead to approach the subject in blunt terms. At one point he goes on this long rant—at least I think he was talking about himself; I wasn't paying too much attention by then—about how he's going to donate all the proceeds from the book to the Pope, so the Pope can use it to safeguard the Earth from this "Monster." I pretty much gave up reading at that point, but since I was close to the end, I figured why not hate-read this to the end.
If you're looking for warmed over hippie philosophy with a salty flavor, this is for you. If not, avoid it like so many shoals for a deep-keeled boat.
Though a bit dated at this point, this long article provides some good insight into the publishing process for a mega successful literary debut. The tThough a bit dated at this point, this long article provides some good insight into the publishing process for a mega successful literary debut. The tone was a bit boy's club, but perhaps that's due to the subject matter of the book in question—it's about baseball (a subject, we're told, men just simply understand better...). Also, connections matter, people. Connections matter.
Winchester's exhaustive look at the geology behind the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was quite edifying, but it was a bit short on the drama of the evWinchester's exhaustive look at the geology behind the 1906 San Francisco earthquake was quite edifying, but it was a bit short on the drama of the event itself and the aftermath.
I've been looking for a good book on the disaster for a little while now, and when I came across A Crack in the Edge of the World I was thrilled. I'd read Winchester's Atlantic a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. However, the jacket copy is a bit misleading here. True, the book is about the 1906 earthquake, but I was expecting a good three hundred pages on the event and the aftermath, peopled with unforgettable characters. I was expecting something akin to Devil in the White City; instead, Winchester spent about 200 pages setting up the geology of the event. Yes, it was very informative, and I did enjoy it, but I would've enjoyed it had I been expecting it. The event itself takes up about 100 pages, most at the end, but with a teaser at the beginning as well.
I learned some fun facts, and in the end I now feel like I have a good foundation on what happened on that fateful April day just over a century ago. I could've done with less geology and less of Winchester's overwrought prose. At least I anticipated the latter having read Atlantic. Recommended for history fans, and fans of natural disaster books.
This was probably the weakest of the series. I was happy to see Mary Ann redeemed—and to see the return of someone from her past who I've been expectiThis was probably the weakest of the series. I was happy to see Mary Ann redeemed—and to see the return of someone from her past who I've been expecting to pop up for a long time—but overall the book lacked some gravitas. I liked the development of Jake as well. This book did a good job of wrapping up Mrs. Madrigal's storyline, so I'm excited to see how Maupin let's her go in the next installment, which is rumored to be the final one. We'll see.
Once again Jesmyn Ward delivers a wallop. She's such a beautiful writer, and she puts her skills to full effect in this heartbreaking memoir. FormallyOnce again Jesmyn Ward delivers a wallop. She's such a beautiful writer, and she puts her skills to full effect in this heartbreaking memoir. Formally, Men We Reaped is inventive. Ward alternates between vignettes that illustrate the five young men who she has lost and a chronological narrative of her family history. I loved this book, but I had to pace myself. There was just too much misery to spend too much time in one sitting with it.
Michael Tolliver Lives is the rare book that I finished in one day. I think it's partly because I took a break from the series after Sure of You, andMichael Tolliver Lives is the rare book that I finished in one day. I think it's partly because I took a break from the series after Sure of You, and was so happy to be back among friends.
Unlike the previous six, this one is in the first person, and pretty much restricted to Michael's romance with the much younger Ben. The most graphic of the Tales books, Maupin fearlessly depicts the sex lives of older gay men here. I could see how some people would be squeamish reading about an intergenerational gay threesome, but like everything in the Tales series, it's handled appropriately and fits perfectly with the story. Anyway, there's plenty of other stuff going on, including a glimpse at Michael's family back in Orlando, and a where-are-they-now wrap up on a lot of the familiar characters.
Ultimately, I was happy to be reunited with my friends from 28 Barbary Lane, but I don't think this one is quite as good as the previous books in the series. I was happy to see Mary Ann back in the mix. Seems like she's figured out a lot about her life and isn't such a despicable person any more. Next one is all about her, so looking forward to the rehabilitation of Mary Ann Caruthers née Singleton.
Reading a history of a business is often like trying to find the beginning of a circle. They never rise from a vacuum; instead, they are a product ofReading a history of a business is often like trying to find the beginning of a circle. They never rise from a vacuum; instead, they are a product of a confluence of factors and people you probably have never heard of. Hothouse is no exception. Luckily, Roger Straus was such a magnetic personality and such an important player in 20th century publishing that as long as you pay attention to what was going on with him you're in good hands. Eventually, the pieces start to fit together.
What I liked most about Kachka's take was the gossipy insights into the psyche of Straus, Giroux and their major authors (Sontag, Wolf, Franzen, etc.). It was fascinating to see these iconic figures snipe and schmooze their way through careers. I kept pretending I worked at FSG and was privy to all these great moments! But, I'm kind of glad I didn't work there. From all accounts Straus seemed unbearable—brilliant, but unbearable. Staying focused on Straus was a bit of a double edged sword. He was obviously important and in may ways the story of FSG is the story of Roger Straus, but I would've liked to see more parity for Giroux, who's working class roots and homosexuality are infinitely more appealing to me than Straus' inherited wealth and entirely unsurprising philandering.
Overall, this was a very entertaining and informative read that underscores the larger narrative of how publishing has grown into the multi-national corporate machine it is today. It's also a good reminder that publishing—like everything else—is largely about who you know!
Night Film sucked me right in. I haven't read Pessl's previous book, but if this one is any indication it's probably a good one to pick up down the liNight Film sucked me right in. I haven't read Pessl's previous book, but if this one is any indication it's probably a good one to pick up down the line. With Night Film we enter the paranoid world of Scott McGrath, disgraced investigative reporter obsessed with enigmatic horror film director Stanislas Cordova. Cordova's daughter, Ashley, a gifted pianist, is found dead of an apparent suicide in an abandoned tenement in Manhattan's Chinatown. McGrath suspects foul play. Teaming up with a spunky actress from Kissimmee, Florida and a brooding drug dealer/tramp, McGrath sets about finding the truth behind Ashley's death--hopefully, settling an old score with Cordova in the process.
Throughout the book, Pessl keeps you guessing as to the real nature of not just Ashley's death, but the depth's Cordova is willing to go to produce films that take the reader right to the edge of sanity. "Sovereign. Deadly. Perfect." It's a mantra for Cordova's fans, and it sums up the guy's films pretty well. As expected, McGrath gets sucked into the deep underbelly of paranoia, putting it all on the line--including his relationship with his young daughter--in search for the truth.
Pessl had me hooked for about three quarters of the book, but then came a long chapter where McGrath finds himself in--let's just say--multiple scenarios, and I found myself fighting the temptation to skip ahead. The intent was to frighten here, but instead it came off as plodding, predictable and illogical. I just didn't believe it. In fact, I had trouble believing a lot of the necessary leaps made throughout, but I was okay with them so long as they entertained me. I also could've done without the italicizing of every other word. It made me feel like I was being spoon fed the plot and situational gravitas. This is scary and important! Pessl ended strong--though she kind of telegraphed the resolution--so I give this book four stars.