I knew very little about Ulysses S Grant before reading this book. I knew he was the main general on the Union side during the Civil War and that he lI knew very little about Ulysses S Grant before reading this book. I knew he was the main general on the Union side during the Civil War and that he later became president, but I seemed to recall that he wasn't a particularly good president. In a way The Man Who Saved the Union is working against that popular misconception to burnish Grant's somewhat tarnished legacy.
H.W. Brands is known for his sweeping presidential biographies - he penned the Wilson biography in the Times Books ambitious American Presidents series - and with The Man Who Saved the Union he doesn't disappoint. We start, as all biographies must, in the beginning. Born Hiram Ulysses Grant, called Ulys by his family, Grant is a pretty common frontier kid. A wiz on horseback and always with an eye out for business. That enthusiasm for business, however, didn't extend to his father's tannery business. It was a lifelong antipathy and one that led to some animosity between father and son; animosity that only the presidency appears to have dispelled. Some interesting trivia about Grant: The "S" doesn't stand for anything; it was the result of a clerical error when he enrolled at West Point. The same clerical error also erased his given name while promoting Ulysses to his first name, hence U.S. Grant. The patriotic ring of it proved too tempting for the august military academy and the name stuck.
After West Point, Grant spent a fair amount of time in the army, participating in the Mexican-American war, and later on the Pacific coast during the gold rush. Eventually, he resigned his commission following allegations that he was drinking too much. By this point he'd married and fathered two kids. He returned to them and made a go of it in farming and various industries, but the child who had always sought a business angle proved to be a lousy businessman. Almost every attempt Grant made at business in his life floundered. He was born for war, though, and the Civil War offered him a chance to return to the only profession he'd ever been good at. The presidency followed, then an illustrious life as a beloved private citizen who counted Samuel Clemens among his friends and colleagues. Grant's final years found him swindled in business and dancing on the gilded edge of penury while fiendishly scribbling his memoirs in a final attempt to secure his family's financial security. As in war and politics, he ultimately succeeded in literature as well.
A good chunk of the book is dedicated to Grant's efforts during the war. It's a good read for those interested in the subject, but I was more interested in what happened after the war. Luckily, Brands delivered. Reconstruction and the presidency years were wonderfully articulated, and despite the fact that I knew of none of the political machinations of the era Brands did a great job of guiding me through. I never felt lost or overwhelmed. I was also fascinated to see how presidential campaigns have changed since the mid-19th century. Grant didn't give a single stump speech until he campaigned on behalf of James Garfield well after his own (Grant's) presidency has ended, nor did he ever announce his own candidacy. It was considered beneath the dignity of the office to pursue it much back then. Or, maybe, as" the man who saved the Union," Grant just didn't need to campaign much.
I read the Kindle edition, which didn't include any images. That was a real missed opportunity here, and it almost tempted me to buy the hardcover (another great argument for selling physical and digital editions as a bundle like the record industry does, but I digress). Other than that, I really liked reading this on a reader. It's a big book and lugging that around would've been a pain. Sure would look nice on my shelf, though.
Overall, I highly recommend this book for fans of political biographies and Civil War buffs. In Brands' hands, Grant's legacy is secured. I now know our 18th president was a great general, a powerful political force who's positive contribution to reconstruction shouldn't be overlooked, and a man who's honor was beyond reproach. Now if only I could find a good biography of one of our worst presidents: James Buchanan. I've been curious about him for years. Anybody have any suggestions?
Fun mystery. Indridason is a pretty competent writer. I enjoyed the emotional tenor of the prose. Everything was calm, direct and logical - just likeFun mystery. Indridason is a pretty competent writer. I enjoyed the emotional tenor of the prose. Everything was calm, direct and logical - just like Iceland! Elínborg is a great protagonist, and I liked the way her work and family life played off of each other, it was a nice departure from the loner detective trope. Next time I'm in the mood for a good mystery I'll definitely be turning to Indridason.
I admit I only picked up Justin Scott's The Shipkiller because I was seduced by its nautical themes of revenge on the high seas and because it was priI admit I only picked up Justin Scott's The Shipkiller because I was seduced by its nautical themes of revenge on the high seas and because it was priced at $1 in a used bookstore in downtown Los Angeles that I was looking to lend a modicum of support. I'm glad I did!
I'm a bit of a ship nerd, a rare enough passion to indulge in life-at-large let alone in contemporary fiction (my other passion), so this book represents the ideal intersection of my two greatest passions. I'm happy to say it met all my expectations, providing literary daring-do on the high seas for a glorious 408 pages. The plot is pretty simple: man's sailboat is destroyed at sea by world's largest ship, man loses wife in accident, man finds no legal recourse, man vows death to the ship; he becomes the shipkiller.
There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the plot hopping, and oodles of nautical ephemera to please sailing geeks thrown into the bargin. At times, I found myself rooting for the wrong side, though. While Hardin (the shipkiller) was a likable enough guy, and his anger-turned-grief was justified, I had a hard time getting behind his project wholeheartedly. You vow to destroy the ship that destroyed your life, okay, but what next? Will that really help you heal, and what of the unstoppable march of industry, which demands that ever larger ships ply the seas? That was my one sticking point, and it followed me throughout. Scott never really addressed the question; instead, Hardin was presented as a dedicated man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal. It's a fine archetype for a thriller, but fails on a more measured level. It didn't ruin the story for me, though - I wasn't expecting high art here - and, throughout, Scott does a great job of inciting you to keep turning those pages! It seems The Shipkiller may become a movie (there was another filmic flirtation back in the seventies, but it fell through). I hope it does. Just like contemporary literature can use more ship-based stories, so, too, can contemporary film.
Jamie Manrique’s Cervantes Street (Akashic Books) is a picturesque imagining of the great Spanish master’s epicOriginally appeared in Lambda Literary.
Jamie Manrique’s Cervantes Street (Akashic Books) is a picturesque imagining of the great Spanish master’s epic life. Told from the alternating points of view of Miguel de Cervantes himself, a self-assured genius from humble beginnings, and his childhood friend Luis de Lara, a man of great privilege, power, and jealousy, Manrique embellishes a swashbuckling biography to offer a captivating vision of Late Renaissance Spain – the inspiration for the first modern novel of the Western canon: Don Quixote.
As a young man Miguel de Cervantes-Saavedra dreams of becoming a court poet like his idol Garcilaso de la Vega, but his ambitions are frustrated by his family’s reduced circumstances and his Jewish heritage. Luis de Lara has no such obstacles: The son of one of Spain’s most powerful families, Luis is destined for greatness in service to the crown. Despite their disparate stations, however, the two aspiring poets develop a strong friendship built on a shared love of verse and mutual admiration. But, when Miguel’s romantic attentions turn to Luis’ betrothed, the beautiful Mercedes, he incites his friend’s fiery jealousy, and the well-connected Luis enacts a clandestine plan that has the consequence of banishing his newfound rival from the kingdom. What follows is a life of epic proportions for the swaggering Cervantes. A turn in the navy leaves him maimed and easy prey for the Algerian corsair Arnaut Mami. Five years of drudgery, torture, and humiliation in Mami’s prison leads to an eventual return to Spain where Cervantes once again takes up the pen. Luis keeps abreast of his rival’s misfortunes, drawing great joy over the years from his erstwhile friend’s misery, all the while exercising his middling talents in aborted literary pursuits and contending with a distant Mercedes and their only son.
By turns historical and inventive, Manrique expertly depicts a bygone era in ways that resonate with contemporary life. Cervantes’ Spain is a world deeply divided by religion, a place where unpopular beliefs can have the direst of consequences; yet, in its folly, it’s a place of great opportunity as well – a place where a man of humble origins can rise to become a father of modern letters. Manrique limns this contradiction with humor and sympathy, finding an underlying humanity in even the greatest villains. Mami and de Lara may be despicable in their actions, but it’s impossible to deny the influence they had on the production of Don Quixote, a masterpiece rivaled only by the works of a fellow prodigious scribe of the Late Renaissance, William Shakespeare.
Emma Straub’s recent short fiction collection, Other People We Married, was well received and praised by liteOriginally published in Time Out New York
Emma Straub’s recent short fiction collection, Other People We Married, was well received and praised by literary luminaries from Dan Chaon to Lorrie Moore. So it follows that the Brooklyn bookseller’s debut novel would be highly anticipated.
Unfortunately, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures fails to meet the author’s lofty ambitions. Blond, ordinary theater brat Elsa Emerson leaves picturesque Door County, Wisconsin, and transforms into alluring Golden Age Hollywood star Laura Lamont, with help from her powerful studio-exec husband. Laura embodies a heady celluloid fantasy for the moviegoing public while maintaining a quaint private life replete with three kids, a house in the Hills and a live-in nanny. Tragedy ensues, Laura’s star wanes, and the once-laureled actress becomes a relic of a bygone era, struggling to make ends meet.
Straub’s ability to blend story and character into a thoroughly pleasant brew is laudable, but nothing here transcends. Her prose sings, but it does so in a key just shy of sentimentality. Life in Pictures focuses on the inner life of an exceptional woman, and on that score it is a modest success: As a devoted mother and openhearted woman who values friendship above career, Laura is anything but the stereotypical Hollywood diva. A grand book needs more than likable characters, however, and in that regard the novel fails. Laura is an appealing protagonist who meets tragedy and success with empathy and strength, but Straub ushers her through the plot with kid gloves, allowing elegantly phrased platitudes to substitute for genuine emotional gravitas. Commenting early on about one of Laura’s films, Straub writes: “It was a simple story, with lots of flirting and costume changes.” The same could be said of this book.
Overall, this was a pretty good book with some outstanding stories. "Mama" and "Queen Penicillin" in particular make this a worthwhile read. Burns hasOverall, this was a pretty good book with some outstanding stories. "Mama" and "Queen Penicillin" in particular make this a worthwhile read. Burns has a spotty legacy, but The Gallery is generally considered his best book, and an important, oft overlooked work in the WWII canon. I especially liked the concept. The book is a series of portraits and musings on and about the various types that find their way into the Galleria Umberto in Naples. Some are about American GIs, others are Italians, but all of them have a sad kernel of ennui for the modern world, a theme that pervades much of 20th century literature.
Much is made of the fact that Burns was gay, but with one or two exceptions these stories aren't explicitly homosexual. Instead of focusing on any one group, Burns turns his pen on a larger sense of failure. A lot of this feels old hat, but no doubt it was pretty fresh for it's day.
Emma Straub's prose is strong, but on the whole the stories here felt flat to me. There was a lot of implied gravitas that I wasn't sure was earned. TEmma Straub's prose is strong, but on the whole the stories here felt flat to me. There was a lot of implied gravitas that I wasn't sure was earned. The stories tended to be women gently constrained by domesticity, and they tended to end with a limp atmospheric sense of potential escape. I never really felt invested in any of them. I'm reading her debut novel now, though, and so far it's quite strong. Maybe Other People We Married was just her clearing her throat.
I'd read some of Capote's fiction, but I'd never gotten around to In Cold Blood - perhaps his most famous work. I had plenty of preconceived notions,I'd read some of Capote's fiction, but I'd never gotten around to In Cold Blood - perhaps his most famous work. I had plenty of preconceived notions, though (Mainly, courtesy of the film Capote). Luckily, the notions that held up were great, and the ones that fell away were dispelled for the better.
This book is a chilling, journalistic account of the grisly killing of a family in small-town Kansas and its aftermath. Told with remarkable detachment, yet richly evocative this book illustrates the darker impulses of men's souls, and, yet, frustratingly, it provides no clear answers. Sure, there are logical inciting events and inevitable consequences, but the larger question - the why? of it - remains as tantalizing out-of-reach as it did before. Most disturbing, in fact, is the spate of copycat incidents that cropped up around the same time. I suppose an argument can be made, as one of the lawyers for the defense in the Clutter case unsuccessfully did, that the subsequent events where the work of momentum and that the true madness lies in the first instance, but there's likely precious little succor to glean from that view. It's easy to see how this story was a crucible for Capote, a gauntlet that broke his literary back. By all accounts, he never again regained his writerly chops after In Cold Blood. A journalist's job, any writer's job, really, is to get at the core of the thing, to understand through craft the truest nature of a thing. The cold-blooded work and subsequent nonchalance of Perry Smith and Dick Hickock seems to frustrate that impulse.
And, yet, again, it's not that simple. Its hard to completely write off Smith (and Hickock to a lesser degree). If anybody's biography could justify such a violent episode, then surely it is his. In this sense, Capote's work is sympathetic, and goes to great pains to introduce the persons of Perry Smith and his accomplice before dwelling on the particulars of the slayings. It's a smart approach. By delaying the blow-by-blow until the last possible moment, Capote has plenty of time to paint a complete picture of these men, thus leaving the hard work of passing judgement to the reader. They're not saints - not by a long shot, but excluding that one pivotal moment their lives and their actions hardly merit a hanging. This, then, seems to be the closest we come to a satisfactory conclusion. It's not a "why," and naturally, it's an answer that comes in the form of a question: Can a life boil down to a single moment? At least in this case, it seems, the answer was yes.
All in all, this was a thrilling and terrifying account of real crime, which kept me up at nights - the perfect book, actually, for Halloween. I may go back and reread some of Capote's fiction now (or re-watch Capote).
Definitely recommended for fans of the genre, as well as connoisseurs of fine style and pitch-perfect storytelling.
I'm a big Danielewski fan, but I was always frustrated by the scarcity of this book. Only two thousand copies printed, and they were printed for the NI'm a big Danielewski fan, but I was always frustrated by the scarcity of this book. Only two thousand copies printed, and they were printed for the Netherlands market. But, finally, after years of lusting, I received a near-mint copy of the second printing as a birthday gift. I do not exaggerate when I say that this is perhaps one of the greatest gifts of all time.
But enough about my personal story. You want to know about the book and whether or not it's worth your time and/or money.
The Fifty Year Sword is closer to the Danielewski of Only Revolutions than the Danielewski of House of Leaves. It's structure is poetic, and the narrative voice is displaced and spread out among a variety of etherial narrators - in this case five unnamed partygoers, identified only by the different color quotation marks they use. For me, it was impossible to keep track of individual narrators throughout the text - I knew who was speaking at any given moment, whether it was lavender or orange, but I was never able to hold them straight in my head for any length of time - however, I found that it didn't matter so much. What the color coding lacked in terms of creating a character that was easy to latch onto, it made up for by creating a deeply pleasing cacophony of voices. The story is told simultaneously by these five narrators, and Danielewski uses the colored quotation marks to really illustrate these people speaking over each other. I got the sense that I was in the same room as them, darting my eyes from one speaker to the next as the story played out.
There's more to it than typographical tricks, though (frankly, that kind of thing is old hat for Danielewski at this point). At it's heart, this is a disturbing ghost tale of sorts. I won't give away any surprises, but suffice it to say that the author hasn't lost his touch for the terrifying. He sure knows how to spin a story that is simultaneously dramatic, atmospheric and formally inventive. Overall, I highly recommend it. Danielewski fans should definitely consider picking up a copy. For those unwilling or unable to fork over the cash, fear not; Random House is bringing out an American edition later this year.
To be a ship buff in the 21st century is to cultivate a certain fatalistic nostalgia, especially if you're not old enough to remember a time before aiTo be a ship buff in the 21st century is to cultivate a certain fatalistic nostalgia, especially if you're not old enough to remember a time before aircraft supremacy. I'm talking, of course, about myself. I've always had a passion for boats, no doubt a seed planted early on by my father's enthusiasm for the same. Like my father I'm an armchair sailor, so it was with great glee that I snatched up a copy of Steven Ujifusa's excellent new history of the SS United States, the fastest ocean liner ever built and still the holder of the legendary Blue Riband award, and her driven designer William Francis Gibbs.
Ujifusa, a member of the United States conservancy, details Gibbs' early fascination with ships and his long gestation - reified by an illustrious career of naval innovation - before finally arriving at the creation of his "Big Ship." All in all, it's as much about a man and his boat as it is a fascinating history of the first half of the American 20th century. In many ways Gibbs and his ship embody a certain segment of that America. Gibbs was obsessed with design and modernity, though unlike portrayals of his contemporaries on shows such as Mad Men, Gibbs arrives at his obsession from a purely practical approach - there's nothing of the fad obsessed or dilettante here. If you're to build the fastest ship in the world you're going to need to think radically about design.
I mentioned nostalgia at the beginning of this review. It's an important factor throughout the book. While United States may have been the fastest, most luxurious (if not most opulent) ship of her day, she was also a swan song. Built in the 1950s she came on the stage just as air travel dawned. Her 17 year career saw a radical shift in how people moved about the globe. So there's definitely an elegiac tone to this book too. One that, at times, waxes too sentimental for my taste. Particularly at the end, the journalistic distance between author and subject collapses, resolving in muddle of fact and boosterism: The ship is currently in preservation limbo on the Philadelphia waterfront. Still, I give Ujifusa great latitude here. We seem to share a sympathetic world view.
I really like this book! Going into it I wasn't sure what to expect. It's received some mixed reviews in the media. The premise is pretty simple: SheiI really like this book! Going into it I wasn't sure what to expect. It's received some mixed reviews in the media. The premise is pretty simple: Sheila is struggling to complete a play while spending time with her artistic friends, most notably painter Margaux, in Toronto. Sheila, the author not the character, is known for mixing philosophy with fiction. How Should a Person Be? follows that thread. There's so much going on here that I've forgotten a ton of it already, and I only finished the book three days ago! On a sentence by sentence level, this book is a true gem and it's worth a read just for the fabulous turns of phrases, but more than that Heiti does an amazing job limning the inner lives of women, particularly women artist. It's not a perspective I normally encounter in my reading - I definitely need to read more women authors! - but I wish I did. There's some great insight here. Particularly, I'm thinking about a scene when Sheila compares loving a woman to attempting to stand tall on a pile of Jell-o. Observations like that are plentiful throughout.
Formally, the book is inventive, too. It's a kind of mix of play and novel, memoir and philosophy, religion and history. Emails figure prominently and they're often presented in numbered lists, which give the thornier philosophical elements a quirky, digestible shape. I could go on about this book for a while, but it would just be more of the same. In short: this book is great. You should read it. One of my favorites of the year.
A reliably lefty history of Los Angeles, City of Quartz was a fascinating read for a recent transplant from the east coast. Mike Davis' collection ofA reliably lefty history of Los Angeles, City of Quartz was a fascinating read for a recent transplant from the east coast. Mike Davis' collection of essays eschews the day-to-day history, choosing instead to focus on several underlying factors to the ur Angeleno character: Architecture-as-fortress, crime-as-byproduct-of-disenfranchisement; the Catholic church as institution of greed, power, and racism; the boom/bust of manufacturing; etc. Davis makes a compelling case for why the city operates the way it does - or, rather, why the city in the 90's, at the height of its various tensions, operated as it did; the revised edition isn't much revised at all in that sense - but he's short on solutions.
Cronyism, greed, and an inferiority complex to the more established power centers of the east coast are portrayed as the perennial animating factors for Los Angeles' worse angels, but aside from a lot of hand-wringing there's not much that, seemingly, can be done retard these drives or focus them on a more positive bent. I often avoid politicized books (and I admit that it would be tough to write a non-politicized book about any major American city, especially L.A.) for this very reason. I get all worked up and then there's no vent for my frustration or righteous indignation. What is the solution: Better urban planning, less development/more development, forced integration, what?! Davis anemically raises the point that perhaps the way forward is through more local control of capital and markets; he blames a lot of the income disparity of the 80s and 90s on foreign investments in the city, but its not as clear cut as that. From Davis' point of view, one of the first villains on the scene was the very local LA Times. But surely there are benefits along with the negatives. After all, something keeps driving people to this city. I think the truer path here is one that is not so polarized. And, to his credit, Davis presents a more balanced argument in the final essay, the one about Fontana. He presents both the good and the bad about that city's evolution from agrarian eden to industrial polluter and finally commuter suburb in a calm, rational light. Solutions, though, are in short supply, and maybe that's the take away message here: Nobody knows how to fix things.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed this book very much (despite the fact that it took me months to read). City of Quartz was a great primer in the history of a city that I find fascinating, but know precious little about. A more dispassionate tone may have broadened the appeal a bit, but undoubtably some of the fire would've been lost. I recommend this book to anybody interested in contemporary urban space - how we negotiate it, how it came to be the way it is - and for anybody interested in getting a peek beneath the surface of this most enigmatic of cities.
Jess Walter's Beautiful Ruins was the perfect vacation read. It's really well written and has just enough teeth to keep me thinking, but not so much tJess Walter's Beautiful Ruins was the perfect vacation read. It's really well written and has just enough teeth to keep me thinking, but not so much that it weighs down the tone. The story starts in a tiny Italian fishing village in the 1960s. An American actress - fresh from the set of the Elizabeth Taylor Richard Burton epic Cleopatra - has come to rest before an operation. She befriends the local hotelier, a young man named Pasquale who dreams of building a premier hotel for American tourists complete with a beach and a tennis court, that his property consists mainly of boulders on a steep cliff doesn't dissuade him. From there, we jump forward to present day Hollywood and the production company of Michael Deane, plastic surgery aficionado and the studio fixer sent to save Cleopatra all those years ago.
The book shifts more or less evenly between these two time periods as the story progresses. Honestly, I found it a little uneven. I was really into the parts set in Italy. It felt so lush and romantic; plus, of course, Richard Burton eventually shows up and steals the show with his larger-than-life (fictional) personality. But the parts that take place in modern day just didn't grip me as much. They felt almost like a pastiche of the Hollywood novel. For that, I'd rather curl up with a trashy Jackie Collins novel. Still, the present day stuff did have some redeeming qualities. It was a joy to see all those things started in the 1960s come to fruition.
At its heart, the book is really about the choices we make between ambition and responsibility, and in that respect it succeeded rather well. I would recommend this for anybody interested in the time period, especially if you're a Liz and Dick fan.
I read maybe one sci-fi book a year. My barrier to entry is generally the writing itself. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I find that most contemporary sci-fiI read maybe one sci-fi book a year. My barrier to entry is generally the writing itself. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I find that most contemporary sci-fi books - as with most "genre" books - tend to be poorly written, sacrificing craft in favor of the fascinating worlds, etc that they present. So, it's always a pleasant surprise when I encounter a work of sci-fi that's also really well written because I am a bit of a futurist at heart and love to delve into these worlds. (It's not for nothing that Star Trek: The Next Generation was my favorite show as a kid.) I'm happy to say 2312 is such a work. Kim Stanley Robinson is perhaps most famous for his Mars trilogy, and from what I gather this book is typical of his earlier style. I haven't read the Mars trilogy, so I can't speak from personal experience. However, after 2312 I'm definitely intrigued.
It's difficult to summarize this book because it's really more a history of a possible future than a traditional novel. Sure, there's a main character and a central conflict, but so much of the book deals with the meta factors of life in space cohabiting with technology that it does the book a disservice to say it's simply the story of Swan Er Hong. Swan is Mercurial - in both the sense that she's prone to sudden mood shifts and that she's from the planet Mercury (there are a lot of little puns like that throughout) - and when we first meet her she's mourning the recent death of her grandmother. The plot picks up from there with Swan getting tangled up in a type of solar system manhunt/mystery. But, 2312 isn't a mystery, not really anyway. For one thing, the action scenes are few and far between and when they do arrive they're over before you even notice. No, the focus here is most definitely on exploring the time and place. Curiously enough, the strongest narrative voice here speaks from an even more distant future so that while reading one gets the dizzying sense of looking back on a time that for one reading today hasn't yet occurred. An interesting technique, but I could see how some might consider it gimmicky.
The greatest weakness here is also the novel's greatest strength. While the world building is fascinating it can at times drag on. It's worth enduring, however, as some of the most beautiful passages depict things never seen by human eyes: sunsets that last for 16 "days" on the moons of Saturn; clear aquarium "terrariums" floating in the nothingness of space; etc. Again, from what I gather, this is typical of Robinson's work, so if you're okay with that you shouldn't have any reservations about diving in. If this is the only sci-fi book I read this year, I'm glad it was such an enjoyable experience.
I wanted to like this more than I actually did. On the surface When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man has everything I like: boats, tense family situI wanted to like this more than I actually did. On the surface When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man has everything I like: boats, tense family situations, nostalgia, violence, etc. But, somehow, the sum wasn't equal to the parts, or, rather, it was exactly equal to the parts. Cal longs to follow in his father's footsteps and head to Alaska with the crab boats. He's a fisherman's son in a fisherman's town, after all, but his mother - an unhappy California transplant - is dead set against it, and with good cause. Fishing is a dangerous pursuit. When John Gaunt,the town's richest man and owner of the entire fleet, dies the fate of the town rests with his shiftless son, Richard. What comes after is a kind of crucible for young Cal. A good read overall, but I had trouble fixing Cal's age throughout (Dybek does give it a couple of times), and while the situation was dramatic and the stakes were ratcheted up high I just found myself shrugging most of the time. Dybeck's prose is flawless, but it's not inspired. There were too many places where the prose felt manufactured rather than transcendental. Maybe that's vague and pretentious. I mean to say it felt like a work that did all the right things, but failed to move me. I'd read his next one, though.
Kate Bornstein embraces hir outlaw status. Hell, Bornstein’s turned it into a brand. A pioneer who seSee my interview of Kate over at Lambda Literary.
Kate Bornstein embraces hir outlaw status. Hell, Bornstein’s turned it into a brand. A pioneer who sets hirself outside the conventional gender binary, Kate first caught the world’s attention with hir groundbreaking book Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women and the Rest of Us, a literary portmanteau combining theory and theatre with a fair amount of autobiography. In Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws ze tackled teen suicide by offering unorthodox survival strategies. Bornstein maintains an open dialogue with hir fans via social media (Kate has over 13,000 Twitter fans) and an ambitious touring schedule. With hir new memoir, A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today (Beacon Press), Bornstein continues to blaze a trail for freaks and outlaws everywhere.
Lambda sat down with the iconoclast to chat about the new book, the future of the Queer movement, Scientology and fame.... (read the whole interview at Lambda Literary.)
If you liked this, make sure to follow me on Goodreads for more reviews! ...more
In his latest collection of essays, Jonathan Franzen reiterates his well-documented love of birds and mournsOriginally published in Time Out New York
In his latest collection of essays, Jonathan Franzen reiterates his well-documented love of birds and mourns his late friend, the literary heavyweight David Foster Wallace. Much of the better material here has been previously published. Taken together, however, these writings present a broader, more freewheeling curiosity than the novelist generally indulges in his fiction.
A kitschy gift provokes a cautionary tale on sustainability and emerging economies in “The Chinese Puffin.” “Authentic but Horrible” condemns the Broadway musical adaptation of Spring Awakening while getting to the core of Frank Wedekind’s subversive play. A brief bid is made for the canonization of Canadian short-story master Alice Munro in “What Makes You So Sure You’re Not the Evil One Yourself?” The title essay finds the author on a remote Pacific island confronting, at long last, the death of Wallace.
Analyzing and extrapolating from disparate literary sources (anything from Robinson Crusoe to Swedish detective novels), these occasionally dithering essays provide a glimpse into the critical faculties of one of our most celebrated contemporary novelists. Franzen’s views on technology and writing are particularly salient: The Internet’s expansiveness is a kind of prison, and postmodernism actually leads us back to the primitive. Still, Farther Away reads more like supplemental material than primary text, and one gets the feeling that this collection is only meant to hold over readers hungry for the author’s next novel. In that sense, the essays in Farther Away are not unlike the European songbird poachers he writes about: For a novelist like Franzen, they make for strange bedfellows.
Esther Newton's slim anthropological study of drag queens and camp culture in mid-60s America is a quick and informative read. I didn't love it, thougEsther Newton's slim anthropological study of drag queens and camp culture in mid-60s America is a quick and informative read. I didn't love it, though. Mother Camp - like many of the queens profiled - betrays its age. No doubt, this was ground-breaking stuff when it was published, but this pre-Stonewall account reads almost laughably elementary in a RuPaul's Drag Race world. We learn things like: drag queens, or female impersonators, often refer to each other as "she"; and that "tricks" and "hustlers" are men who are often paid for sex. Obviously, it's unfair to "read" (and I mean that in a throwing shade kind of way) Newton for the increased visibility drag culture has acquired in the subsequent decades, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't hoping for something a bit more academic and rigorous and less, well, anthropological. The whole approach was kind of like watching a nature documentary in that you have a very removed and (more or less) objective view of a contained world. One major omission, I felt, was the lack of discussion about the queen's romantic lives. Sure, the aforementioned tricks, hustlers and even "husbands" were mentioned, but always as minor figures on the periphery. I would've liked to see what the romantic lives of these performers were like: was it difficult to find love given the stigma of drag and the transitory nature of the profession? did the queens date amongst themselves? etc. I don't think that would've been outside the stated scope of this project, especially since Newton spent a considerable amount of time describing the various domiciles of some of the central performers in the text. For me, it would've helped paint a more complete picture, particularly at this crucial moment in gay history. Overall, I think the book succeeds in its project, but I would advise readers to look at this more as a historical document than as a text informing contemporary drag culture.