I loved this book so much in galleys that it's the only book I agreed to blurb this year. I guess I'll post that here, since it forced me to be succinI loved this book so much in galleys that it's the only book I agreed to blurb this year. I guess I'll post that here, since it forced me to be succinct:
The Brain Defense is a stirring ride into a fascinating new field. Can a tumor or traumatic brain injury explain rape or murder? Can they diminish culpability? If your instinct screams no, read page one. The first staggering case will challenge your assumptions; the book that follows may alter them permanently. The vividness and urgency of Kevin Davis’s storytelling, along with his artful touch, draw you in from the first line, and never let you go....more
My early read on this book is enthralled. I'm just on p. 37 (plus the epilogue that I started with, and half the intro that I dispensed with), and I'mMy early read on this book is enthralled. I'm just on p. 37 (plus the epilogue that I started with, and half the intro that I dispensed with), and I'm totally sucked in.
I've already learned a great deal about how the peculiar Russian aristocracy works, and when I plunge back into Anna Karenina soon, it will be with much clearer vision.
The pace feels just right for now, giving me the clarity I hoped for on the origin of the line, starting just far back enough to set the stage, and a clear picture of the machinations that went on to establish things.
We'll see if I tire of that after 600 pages. (A book on the whole Plantagenet line started similarly for me, but I eventually grew weary of the minutiae. These seems to be avoiding some of those traps, though: detail yes, but not drowning in it: details that illuminate the patterns, so far.)
I've got a long way, but I read slowly, and expect to go back and forth between this and Anna. So that's my early take. I'll update. ...more
Brilliant. This is a new classic of the narrative nonfiction genre.
The prose is vivid and intoxicating, and he weaves together 2+ threads, seamlessly-Brilliant. This is a new classic of the narrative nonfiction genre.
The prose is vivid and intoxicating, and he weaves together 2+ threads, seamlessly--with the Fawcett thread dominant, as it should be, yet given fresh life with the mingling of the contemporary thread.
I was drawn in from the start, but oddly enough, I REALLY got fascinated when he got to the developing field of cultural anthropology, and the fights over whether the people in the Amazon were "noble savages" or just "savages," or stupid subhumans, or . . . and what the apparent tiny population really meant. Throughout the book, there was an adventure story going on, but a much wider, deeper consideration of how the discoveries there fundamentally altered our conceptions of how and why we all are the way we are. And it crept into those ideas artfully, interestingly and never pedantically. It never bogged down into a university course: felt more like an exciting speaker spurring our curiosity and helping us run with it.
So well done. I'll use this as one of my models for all my future books.
(And as a writer, I can't resist saying: Great verbs! I mean, stupendously great, every page, every paragraph. Never too much, consistently just right.)...more
I love this play, and this edition. It's captivating and insightful, and I'm reading right after finishing "The Plantagenets," which I also recommend,I love this play, and this edition. It's captivating and insightful, and I'm reading right after finishing "The Plantagenets," which I also recommend, and which teed it up nicely. (That book ends with Henry IV deposing Richard II, leading directly to the situation this play depicts.)
One problem with reading the history of the English kings is their stories tend to blur together after while. I've always been able to keep Henry II straight, because I watched "The Lion in Winter" 20 years ago, and still picture Peter O'Toole as Henry, Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, etc. I think I have this set of Henry's etched in my brain for another 20, too.
I tried two other editions of Henry IV, before settling on this one (Arden):
- The Applause edition: I loved the thorough explanations and insights into how actors have played scenes over time FOR OTHER PLAYS (several of the well-known tragedies), so I was expecting the same. Nope. Nothing but lots of footnotes indicating technical decisions on which folio/quarto was used on a particular line.
- Oxford School Series. The explanatory notes were very helpful, and I would have been very happy with this edition. But I compared this with Arden (reviewed here) line by and Arden had far more historical information and insightful notes on the wordplay (eg, biblical sources he was playing off). Also, the Oxford actually overdid it explaining some phrases I found obvious.
I went to B&N and worked through more than a dozen versions of this play, and found this most superior, by far. (Also, get historical info on all the major characters.) This appears to be the best out there. It costs a bit more: about $8 more than the others, but I'll be spending 40-60 hours with it, so that's less than 20 cents per hour of my time for something much more effective. A bargain.
(If money is really tight, I highly recommend the "Oxford School Series," (and note that's different than just "Oxford," which is also out there.
UPDATE: I started act 5 today, and still loving it. Racing through it, on my scale. I could do without Falstaff, but loving Hal and Hotspur and the other rebels and even the king sometimes.
UPDATE 2: Wrapped up in a frenzy. Sooooo good. ...more
I'm 100 pages in and mesmerized. This answers so many questions I've had for decades about who the English actually were, what tribes they were composI'm 100 pages in and mesmerized. This answers so many questions I've had for decades about who the English actually were, what tribes they were composed of, and how both the "royalty" and "nobility" came to be, and who they were. Amazing.
(I put those words in quotes because I think they're imaginary, foul concepts. Obviously, I recognize that such classes were created and had a monumental impact, and I'm fascinated by them, but I sure don't recognize them as "noble," much less royal.)
Obviously, this is a provisional review/rating. I hope to return to to fill in more as I progress. I actually like how these sites allow a person to communicate not just how they felt about the book after they were all finished, but a bit about how the experience unfolded.
Well, I finished, and it had some problems. I'll try to return to lay it out.
2 years later (January 2017), I'm 300-plus pages into Robert Tombs' "The English and Their History," and highly recommend it. I think Tombs' approach is much better, even though it's the entire history in 1,000 pages, so a bit less room for this period.)...more
My foundation as a writer was shaped by these stories. I first read most of them in 1984, when I went to grad school in writing at U of Colorado in BoMy foundation as a writer was shaped by these stories. I first read most of them in 1984, when I went to grad school in writing at U of Colorado in Boulder. Lucia was one of several wonderful profs I had there, but it was her stories alone that I read, with awe, and said, "THAT is what I want to do!"
Quiet awe, by the way. That's the beauty of these stories. No kings or dukes or ladies in waiting losing their heads or fighting for the crown. No grand sweeping anything, no boisterous narrator, showing off. But no boring MFA stories full of pretty sentences about nothing, either. Just raw, gripping tales about switchboard operators, cleaning ladies and shy little Protestant girls trying to fit in in Catholic school.
They are immediately engaging, with that voice, that draws you in with its candor as well as its insight. Lucia had an extraordinary ability to gaze right inside of people, sort of an emotional x-ray vision, with the people in her lives and her characters. (Of course those are the same--or the latter came from the former. She had that uncanny ability in life, and spilled it seemingly effortlessly onto the page.)
Fifteen years later, when I published Columbine, you can witness my attempt to emulate Lucia on every page. I hope I was worthy. I keep reading her, trying to get closer to the Lucia ideal, though I never will. My favorite story is "My Jockey," and I've read it probably 100 times. If I can do what she did there, once, ever, that will be enough.
(I was lucky enough to read this book in galleys. It's coming out Aug. 18.) ...more
Oh nooooo! I got ahead of the author on a trilogy. Ravenous for another installment.
I loved Wolf Hall, but decided to pace myself: read several otherOh nooooo! I got ahead of the author on a trilogy. Ravenous for another installment.
I loved Wolf Hall, but decided to pace myself: read several other books before tasting Hilary Mantel's style again. Couldn't do it. Read one book and then plunged back in. Loved this as much as the first, and was grateful she picked up the pace this time. (That was my lone complaint on Wolf Hall: 600 pages was excessive for the story she had to tell. I got restless with it. Better pacing here....more
I blurbed this book, so I'll start with that, then expand:
That voice. That witty, subversive voice weBest book I've read all year--by a country mile.
I blurbed this book, so I'll start with that, then expand:
That voice. That witty, subversive voice we thought we'd lost, is back for one last romp. Hastings decodes the culture even more incisively in fiction, with wild bursts of imaginative mischief. So damn funny.
Too salesy? I hope not. So much to pack in there, and especially, I wanted to convey the giddiness I felt snickering my way through.
I could hardly believe it. I missed Mike desperately, and there was everything I loved about him, everything that made him so special, the one living journalist I most looked up to, captured vividly on the page.
So there's my disclaimer: Mike was a friend. Stop there if you think I'm too biased. But it affected me deeply as a writer, and as someone working in a version of the same field, frequently appalled and furious at the profession.
As I've raved about the book pre-publication, I've found myself confessing that it's hard to be objective, but that's not actually true: My writer friends and I exchange work all the time, and they shudder at my critiques. I'm harsh and demanding, especially from those I respect most, and to be honest, I was terrified to read this: What if Mike couldn't pull off fiction? What if it wasn't his best work?
I never dreamed that it would literally be his best work. In my opinion, it is. If you thought you loved his voice in nonfiction, when he was still constrained by the form, wait to you hear him unshackled and unfettered in fiction. Kind of glorious to behold.
God, I wish he'd plunged into fiction deeper, sooner.
This book is described as a satire of the media, and at least 2/3 of it is, brilliantly, but it's so much more. One by one, he takes us deep inside so many cultural institutions, and shows us how absurdly they operate: war, media, even a hilarious bit on the airlines that had me howling and nodding. (pp. 29-31. That's when I knew that I was unabashedly in love with this book. Try that if you're looking for an excerpt. Search the phrase, "A.E. Peoria sits in first class..."
Every page I was nodding, because Mike had this incredible cultural x-ray sort of capacity to see right through the fog of cultural wars, take us readers right past all that, into the inside to see how it operates: who is pulling the levers and why.
The scary part for me, as a writer, was 1/3 of the way through, I set the book down, and had a serious argument with myself about whether I had to stop reading. The war sections were covering the same ground as my next book, and I was starting to feel panicky that I couldn't match it. (That debilitating intimidation has happened to me exactly twice before: reading "In Cold Blood" while writing "Columbine," and rereading "All Quiet On The Western Front" while working on my soldiers' book. And now "The Last Magazine." Pretty lofty company.)
That was my actual experience reading this--so I'm pretty sure I was feeling more than just admiration for a friend. (FYI, the war receded as a primary focus as the novel progressed, but I didn't know that at the time. And for the record, I got over the intimidation each time. But it fucked with me.)
This novel is a mischievous and cutting satire, and boy does Mike lay the media bare. You may think you've seen that before, because Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have been masterfully eviscerating it nightly. But those guys are skewering the media from the outside. They've got TVs lined up in the writers' rooms watching CNN and Fox and MSNBC like the rest of us. They can and do tell us HOW the media is fucking it up, but if you want to understand WHY all that perplexing sewage keeps spilling out, you need an insider. Mike lived it. Mike inhabited that self-perpetuating bullshit machinery. And here he's laying it bare.
People assume it's all about ratings, but that doesn't explain the half of it. Fuck the show's ratings, or the magazine sales, it's about PERSONAL stature. It's about opportunism, cowardice, personality branding. All of that comes to life in this book. It's about clever use of a question mark. I don't want to go any further without a spoiler, but there is an amazing use of a question mark in a crucial headline in this book that reveals so much about how a news organization can shamelessly, selfishly beat the drum for and against the same war.
Mike had an amazing eye for the telling detail, and a keen bullshit-detector.
So if you were offended by my use of "fuck" up there, this book might not be for you. It is not polite. Sometimes ruthless, even savage, but always dead-on. Mike illustrates a pitch-perfect ear for voice and dialogue and It's all rendered beautifully, through the eyes of (mostly) young men, who are not mincing words, or acting delicately. There are a handful of pretty wild, graphic sexcapades, which for me, beautifully colored the life of these characters--and while avoiding spoilers, a certain juxtaposition of war, porn and news is deftly handled and revealing about all three, as well as the young men engaging in them.
If that's going to offend you, be prepared to skip a few pages, or skip this book. It's pretty damn gonzo. If you hate gonzo, you know who you are. If you hated Denis Johnson's "Jesus' Son," don't even consider this.
The book is not flawless. I could live without some of the interludes, the Thai sex scene went on too long, and I would have loved more introspection in the last 30 pages (Part VII), which were too plot-focused for my taste. In time, I think it will be viewed as an imperfect gem.
"Jesus' Son" is my favorite novel written in my time, and I kept recalling it as I read: in the brutal honesty and vivid insights each book captured about its characters. Also, I was reminded of "A Visit from the Goon Squad" (which I'm still reading, and LOVING), for the same reason, particularly the feeling and intensity of youngish artists (writers, musicians, whatever), and perhaps particularly in NYC at this moment in time. The tormented inner lives of the "fictional" Hastings and especially the A.E. Peoria he was projecting himself growing into--Peoria's fears, aspirations, his shaky identity as a magazine writer and the tenuous nature of making both your living and your hopeful contribution by typing shit on a screen ... These characters were so powerful and so real, it felt like someone had been listening in to all the conversations in my head.
That was unsettling for me. The passage on p. 240, when "Hastings" (the first-person narrator) says about Peoria, "Yes, the career had been his life...his id, his ego, and his soul. He didn't know it at the time. ... He just took pills and got drunk and ..." And then he made one mistake... God, it sounded like Mike had been listening into the arguments in my head. But he wrote it before he met me. Is this what all writers feel? All artists? Just certain kinds? I had no idea Mike was so haunted by the myth of Icarus, leaping out at him from among all the Greek myths, just as it did for me. For you? I actually hope to hear from other writers and artists about their reactions. (Perhaps in the comments?)
For me, personally, this was as much a portrait of two earnest but ambitious young artists trying to make a lasting impact on the world--and how that can run horribly astray.
It's a brilliant take-down of the media, too, for sure, but don't miss the richer personal story a quarter inch beneath the surface. This is an Icarus tale.
It's consistently witty and insightful and it's immediately so there. Just a stunning piece of work. Best book I've read all year. ...more