This is highly out of character for me; I rarely watch television, and when I do it's usually light fun fare, like The IT Crowd or 30 Rock or whatever...moreThis is highly out of character for me; I rarely watch television, and when I do it's usually light fun fare, like The IT Crowd or 30 Rock or whatever. But in a bizarre way, I think this book is actually responsible for my watching Dollhouse: I copyedited this a couple of years ago even though I'd never even heard of the show, and I think some of the minutia of the essays must have lodged in my subconscious or something, because although I had forgotten all about the book, I was somehow moved to start watching the show.
And whoa. It was so good.
I'd never even seen Buffy before -- I'm not kidding about not watching television -- but I loved Dollhouse in a way I can't remember loving anything since My So-Called Life when I was sixteen. So, completing the circuit, I wrote to the publisher and asked for a copy of the book, which I suspect will make a lot more sense this time around.(less)
I'm just recycling my own reviews I guess, but I already described this book in my "want to read" review of this other one. I said how this is about a...moreI'm just recycling my own reviews I guess, but I already described this book in my "want to read" review of this other one. I said how this is about a group of urban explorers in the UK sneaking into and photographing abandoned buildings and disused subway stations and giant under-construction skyscrapers, but written first as this guy's PhD thesis relating urban exploration to the modern and postmodern condition, and our relationships to space and time, and our ownership or lack thereof of our public places and our private place in the world. It's pretty great, even though it took me a million hours to copyedit, on top of my day job, and so ruined my life for a couple of weeks. It's kind of sad that I was stuck in my apartment night after night, reading about these really daring crazy trespass exploits.
Moral of the story: the life of a copyeditor is just not as glamorous as the life of an urban explorer. I know you're all shocked.(less)
Amy has such an unusual sense of pacing and flow. Her meditations meander in short chopped bits, taking strange and fascinating turns and loops and pu...moreAmy has such an unusual sense of pacing and flow. Her meditations meander in short chopped bits, taking strange and fascinating turns and loops and pulling you headlong through the pages.
I copyedited these two short books for McSweeney's and then another book Amy is (I believe) self-publishing, one after the other after the other, so the themes and topics between the three are blurred. But she wanders through everything from learning to ride a motorcycle to taking a class on tightrope walking, from the differences between Japanese and American playgrounds to details of a childhood sexual assailant. She also discourses on parenthood and stillness and being in a place and travel and fear and time and its vagaries and oh, so many other things.
I just read the McSwy's blurb on this book, and they're right: this stuff is half clear-eyed memoiring and half philosophical riffing, and it definitely makes the world strange again. Really wonderful.(less)
I guess I forgot to tell you guys about this one when I proofed it, sorry. It's kind of a slower burn than his previous books; it felt a little draggy...moreI guess I forgot to tell you guys about this one when I proofed it, sorry. It's kind of a slower burn than his previous books; it felt a little draggy at the beginning, but all of a sudden I was so immersed in it and it just tears through from there on. Unsurprisingly, being John Brandon, it's really super sad, but it's a bit more plangent than the previous ones, and less cruelly fucked up.
Also, jeepers, look how pretty that cover is! Oh, McSwy's, you can do no wrong.(less)
Even though this is coming out in 2012, it still made my CCLaP best-of-2011 list, because I am awesome (and a proofreader) and I got to read it early....moreEven though this is coming out in 2012, it still made my CCLaP best-of-2011 list, because I am awesome (and a proofreader) and I got to read it early.
I'm not really going to tell you much about it because I don't want to blow up McSweeney's spot, but look: Did you like The Instructions? Did you think it was probably the greatest sprawling modern epic novel of 2010, if not the greatest sprawling modern epic novel ever? Then you will love the short stories in Hot Pink. Maybe not quite as much, but plenty. Because in case you doubted (you didn't, though, did you?), these stories are fiercely good. Obvs they don't have the same breadth and depth of The Instructions, but there are shivery little echoes throughout, especially in fathers who call their sons "boychick" or kiss their wives in particularly clever ways, and in characters who think and think and think and think and fucking think and inside-out and everywhichway analyze the most intimate of gestures or the grandest ideas about the world. Also some of these stories are extremely DFW-y, which is fine by me, and some of them are gut-punchingly sad, which is less so, but what can you do? Life is sad sometimes, and sometimes you have to write about it. (less)
Wow you guys. This one, too, is going to blow your minds. It's tough not to compare it to The Instructions, the last 1000-plus-pager from the inimita...moreWow you guys. This one, too, is going to blow your minds. It's tough not to compare it to The Instructions, the last 1000-plus-pager from the inimitable McSweeney's, but such a comparison would be meaningless, as I think it would be pretty difficult for these books to be more different. It's still way pre-pub, so I don't want to spill any secrets, but obvs this book, like everything McSwy's does, is phenomenal. Get it on them to-read shelves already!!
A few months ago I was on the subway, and a shambling, mumbling young guy came lurching toward me from the other...moreThis made my CCLaP best-of-2011 list.
A few months ago I was on the subway, and a shambling, mumbling young guy came lurching toward me from the other end of the car, swaying and asking for change. I made one of those quick judgements, like you do, and decided that I wasn't going to give him any money. I was all the way at the end of the car, and he made it to my side and sort of came to rest next to me. I kept my face buried in my book. At the next station, a trio of those acrobatic dancing guys got on. I don't know if this is a national phenomenon, but they are all over the NYC subways. It's usually three, usually dudes, usually young and thuggish. These motherfuckers are amazing. They do these crazy flips and falls and balances, right in the middle of the moving, crowded train, swinging from the handrails and leaping over each other and holding themselves parallel to the ground on the poles. It's fucking nuts. Anyway, I always give those kids money, and I wanted to give them money this time too, and but then I remembered that the other guy was still standing next to me. It's not like I really think he believed me that I was so engrossed in my book that I failed to hear him asking for money, and it's not that I was quailing with fear of being judged by this guy, but still, as I put my coins in the upturned ballcap of one of the gymnasts, I felt like a total shithead. Like I've come to a point in my charitable life where I require entertainment for my alms? Or like how living in a big city forces you to all the time make these rankings, stratifying people according to some inner barometer of need or deservingness? Or like why couldn't I be rich enough that I could just give and give and give, coins by the fistful, to every person who ever asks? Why am I such a dick?
None of this has anything to do with Burma, obviously. But here's why I told that story: A little while ago I proofread the previous book in this series, Hope Deferred, and it totally wrecked me. And this one, too, was crushing, and harrowing, and shocking, and depressing. But somehow not quite as much, I guess. It didn't make me weep, certainly. So I again feel like a total douche, like I somehow again am in a position to rank the suffering of the world, and have decided that Zimbabwe has it worse.
They don't. The shit in Burma is awful. The people there are in dire, dire straights. The world is a horrible mess. What is going on? Fuck. Everyone should pay full price for and then read every single book in the Voice of Witness series, and you guys, we should fix the goddamn world somehow. (less)
Oh god, I think this book is even more devastating than those Holocaust essays from Vassily Grossman, because this shit is still going on. The situati...moreOh god, I think this book is even more devastating than those Holocaust essays from Vassily Grossman, because this shit is still going on. The situation in Zimbabwe is just fucking agonizing, and if not for this book, I'd have had only the vaguest idea that some weird bad shit was going down there, but because I lead a stupidly privileged life that I did nothing to earn, that would have been the extent of it.
Do you know about the Voices of Witness series? It's funded by McSweeney's, and it is absolutely harrowing and brilliant and so so urgently needed. Look, I know lots of people hate Dave Eggers for being twee and precious and full of himself and too pomo and all the rest. But even of you loathe his writing or your perception of his personality, I beg you to consider the lasting impact he has had and is still having on the literary and cultural landscape in this country today. He has a hand—and a financial investment—in some incredible movements (826 Valencia, The Teacher Salary Project, Voices of Witness, among others), which, at risk of getting all squishy, is so noble, so praiseworthy. You have to give him that, at least.
Anyway, please don't stop reading, I have more to say.
This book is several hundred pages of interviews with Zimbabweans, many in exile and under forced asylum. They do a brilliant job here of covering the whole spectrum of voices, people from all the different political parties, old and young, black and white, native and non-, soldiers, veterans, farmers, organizers, black-market suppliers, border-jumpers, the unemployed, the HIV positive, torture survivors, torturers, on and on and on. There are extensive appendices for the woefully uninformed (me), tracing the national problems back for decades, so you can see that none of this shit is black-and-white (pun not intended), that the problems today are results of mismanaging the problems from last year and the year before that and the year before that, that the horrifyingly corrupt government was originally elected on great platforms and intended to do wonderful things, that this terrible fucking mess is so far gone that how can it possibly be fixed now?
You will learn so much from this book, and it will leave you (probably; it did me) feeling so hopeless and devastated you will not know what to do.
Books like this make me hate myself, hate my easy life, my stupid fucking trivial first-world problems, my lack of awareness, my lack of action, god, what a fucking world we live in, full of so much shit and misery, and here I am in my nice little Brooklyn apartment deciding what new music to download with my fast internet connection on my spiffy new-ish laptop and wondering where I will go to pay for an overpriced dinner tonight, and no one is shooting at me and I am in no real danger of getting raped or tortured or forced off of my land, and I know I will be able to eat (too much) today and tomorrow and in perpetuity and why am I not working with Doctors Without Borders? Or trying to find a cure for AIDS? Or doing anything lasting or meaningful or real?
Fuck. Oh my god. Please read this book right away. I have to go finish crying now.(less)
Oh god, I can't even possibly rate this book. It is absolutely the single most devastatingly horrifying thing I've ever read for work -- or really eve...moreOh god, I can't even possibly rate this book. It is absolutely the single most devastatingly horrifying thing I've ever read for work -- or really ever read at all. "The Hell of Treblinka," Grossman's most famous essay, is exactly that: Grossman, a journalist, takes a trip to Treblinka a few years after WWII is over. Amid extremely detailed descriptions of what it was like for the prisoners in the camps, he even goes so far as to dig in the dirt around the area, uncovering wallets and hair ribbons and shattered dolls and shoes that had been hastily buried before the guards departed. Oh god oh god oh god, it is so so devastating.
The whole time I was reading this, I kept wondering not necessarily why someone would write this -- of course I know the arguments, I was raised by Jews after all, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, etc. -- but who on earth would choose to read it? I mean, this is coming out in a snazzy new lovely NYRB edition, and it is obviously intended to be sold to and read by lots and lots of people. But why? I was literally ill during and after proofing this book. Why would anyone do that to themselves on purpose?(less)
Nov: Karen & I went to see Adam Levin read last night and he was great, not to mention ridiculously cool & nice. He is also the second author...moreNov: Karen & I went to see Adam Levin read last night and he was great, not to mention ridiculously cool & nice. He is also the second author I've met who hugged me when he found out I was his copyeditor (Deb Olin Unferth, who is also fantastic, was the first). As if I could have liked him more! Shit you guys, read this fucking book already and make the man rich & famous.
also: for anyone still on the fence about trying this -- especially those with whom I've lost reliability because I so overly effusively love everything -- check out this essay compiled from the Rumpus Book Club discussions. It's very detailed and measured and illuminating, although a bit spoilery.
Oct: Ooh, I just found out that this book is on the shelves now, so I feel like it's okay to expand my review a smidge.
First I will say again: holy moly, this is fucking stupendous. Totally unlike anything I've ever read before. it's the story of Gurion Maccabee, a ten-year-old Hebrew scholar and brilliant, brilliant boy, whom many of his friends (and also some grownups) believe is the messiah. It's absolutely steeped in Jewish philosophy, which believe me, I would have considered a huge turnoff if someone'd told me that that was what I was getting into, but it is just fascinating the way it's done here. (n.b.: I'm not anti-Semitic or anything; I'm a Jew by birth myself, but I just don't tend to gravitate toward religiously expounding books.)
Anyway, Gurion's dad is a fallen Chasid and his mom is an Ethiopian Jew who was a sniper or secret agent or something in Israel, and dad has taught Gurion to be an intense scholar and mom has taught him to be a serious fighter. The parents are thrilling characters, sexy and brilliant and terrifically fun. But most of the story actually takes place at Gurion's school, a last-resort school for fuck-up kids, because he's been kicked out of three other schools in a row for inciting and participating in serious violence. The whole book is written sort of as his scripture, as he rallies and trains his troops, then foments and carries out the Gurionic War against those who would keep down the Israelites with draconian rules and unjust punishments. The kids in the school, and especially Gurion's inner circle, are just amazingly complexly realized characters, so full and fascinating and devastating and fucking real. His girlfriend Eliza June and his best friends Benji (a gentile and a thug and in his own way even more brilliant than Gurion) and Eli (a beautiful and terribly sad transfer student and scholar who is it turns out so strong)... oh god, they are just so goddamn good.
I may have mentioned that the book is over a thousand pages, so obvs I've told you basically nothing at all so far. But each character is a wonder. The dialogue is phenomenal. The theology, rather than being a pedantic distraction, is thrilling. The scope is massive. I don't even know.
Obvs it's impossible to describe truly unique works of literature, and obvs I've done a bad job. But I am sad to say that I also think the promo copy does the book a bit of a disservice by name-dropping DFW and Philip Roth. I mean, it's like they went, "Uh, the book is really long and weird...compare to DFW! And it's super-Jewy...compare to Philip Roth!" Not to say that there isn't maybe a little something to the comparisons—it is long and weird and super-Jewy—but that just seems lazy to me. Adam Levin is his very own brand of insanely awesome, is all I mean.
Anyway, fuck. I'm getting shivers just thinking about this book. I can't wait to read it again.
June: Holy shit, you guys, this one is going to blow your fucking minds. Brilliant, sprawling, edifying, invigorating, devastating, dreamlike, utterly unique, just totally spellbindingly spectacular.... It's over a thousand pages and still too short. I don't even know what to say.(less)
This is a sweet little book put out by a nice press you've never heard of. You'll especially like it if you're one of those dudes who has an inexplica...moreThis is a sweet little book put out by a nice press you've never heard of. You'll especially like it if you're one of those dudes who has an inexplicably encyclopedic knowledge of baseball.(less)
Oh. God. So. Good. I love love John Brandon anyway, back from the painfully spectacular Arkansas, and this one gives you that same sinking feeling in...moreOh. God. So. Good. I love love John Brandon anyway, back from the painfully spectacular Arkansas, and this one gives you that same sinking feeling in your stomach once you get into it, once you know that there is just no way this will get better or go well. Toby and Shelby, the main characters in this one, are just amazing and so so real. (I hope I never get too old to ache and squirm when I read about teenagers falling messily and awkwardly and terribly for one another.) John Brandon's writing is so simple and brusque it's exquisite. I don't know why he wants to write about such fucked up shit, but holy hell is he good at it.
And OMG, in case you need more convincing, here's what Daniel Handler, whom I desperately love, has to say:
[Brandon:] subverts the expectations of an adolescent novel by staying true to the wild incongruities of adolescence, and subverts the expectations of a crime novel by giving us people who are more than criminals and victims. The result is a great story in great prose, a story that keeps you turning pages even as you want to slow to savor them, full of characters who are real because they are so unlikely. “Citrus County” subverts countless expectations to conform to our expectations of a very good book.
Great, harrowing, horrifying, devastating, maybe a little bit redemptive? But mostly just appalling. There was one scene which is etched crushingly in...moreGreat, harrowing, horrifying, devastating, maybe a little bit redemptive? But mostly just appalling. There was one scene which is etched crushingly into my brain, and if I allow myself to dwell on it for more than a few seconds, even now, many many months after I read this book, I will burst anew into tears. (less)
Obvs not the kind of book I'd read if I wasn't being paid to do so, but quite good, I learned a lot of cool things about sexual practices in history &...moreObvs not the kind of book I'd read if I wasn't being paid to do so, but quite good, I learned a lot of cool things about sexual practices in history & evolution.(less)