Ta-Nehisi Coates loves this book by a Ghana-born, Alabama-raised author. So does New York magazine. I AM GOING TO READ IT IN LIKE A WEEK ON AUGUST FIRTa-Nehisi Coates loves this book by a Ghana-born, Alabama-raised author. So does New York magazine. I AM GOING TO READ IT IN LIKE A WEEK ON AUGUST FIRSTISH AND YOU ARE INVITED TO JOIN ME....more
Shirley Jackson writes mysteries where the mystery is, do you live in a sane world? Is it mad? Is there magic? Is it good or bad magic?
Natalie Waite iShirley Jackson writes mysteries where the mystery is, do you live in a sane world? Is it mad? Is there magic? Is it good or bad magic?
Natalie Waite isn't sure she exists at all:
Or even suppose, imagine, could it be true? that she was confined, locked away, pounding wildly against the bars on the window, attacking the keepers, biting at the doctors, screaming down the corridors that she was someone named Watalie Naite..."
And later: "'We are on a carpet,' she announced soberly. 'It unrolls in front of us, but in back of us it rolls up and there is nothing under it.'" Shirley Jackson would have loved the theory that we're all sprites in a computer simulation in some entirely other civilization. Or maybe she would have shrugged and said yeah, obviously.
Hangsaman was Jackson's second novel, and it's not entirely tightly wound. Its plot is messy. It can be divided into three parts. (view spoiler)[
In part one, Natalie hangs out with her shitty, pompous writer dad. She is possibly raped. This will not come up again.
Part two puts on the coat of an academic novel about her shitty life at college. She's lonely and badly depressed. She's used by two girls, at least one of whom is fucking her married professor, as a distraction.
In part three she has what looks like a nervous breakdown and considers suicide with the help of an imaginary friend. You may find yourself flipping back through the book to see if Tony has come up before. She has not.
You had best figure out for yourself that Tony doesn't exist. You'll have to decide for yourself about that rape, and whether Natalie is the dorm thief of the second part. (hide spoiler)] Jackson doesn't really lay any of it out for you. She asks a lot from you, and it can be a little frustrating.
The Three Shirley Jackson Books I've Read, In Descending Order Of Plot Tidiness
We Have Always Lived in the Castle Haunting of Hill House Hangsaman
But listen, she still has yet to write a single sentence that I haven't loved. She hits this sweet spot for me: she's unique but accessible. The other day we were talking about what author we'd recommend to a non-reader who wanted to try a "classic"; I said Shirley Jackson. My answer to a lot of questions is Shirley Jackson. She's one of my actual favorites.
Appendix: Books Mentioned The book Tony reads to Natalie ("Alice came out of her room with only her shoes and stockings on...") is The Way of a Man with a Maid, an anonymous 1908 BDSM novel that's decent for what it is. What it is is smut.
(I did some research online and fleshed the list out a bit, but found no more specifics. Have emailed her begging for the exact reading list. I am a thorough person.)["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Louise Erdrich's 1984 debut is one of those novels that's not so much a novel as a collection of related short stories, like Manhattan Transfer,LastLouise Erdrich's 1984 debut is one of those novels that's not so much a novel as a collection of related short stories, like Manhattan Transfer,Last Exit to Brooklyn and Visit From the Goon Squad. These are not my favorite things; they're hard to engage with. As far as it goes, though, it doesn't get much better than Love Medicine. It's written with total authority - impressive for a debut - and the stories feel of a whole. It follows two Native American families, the Lamartines and the Kashpaws, and their extremely complicated lineages. It spans the entire 20th century: Lulu Kashpaw finds a dead body in the 19teens, and Lipsha learns who his parents are in the mid 80s. It incorporates Chippewa creation myths: Nanapush is the Chippewa trickster/teacher god. Here's a nice discussion of it by people who are smarter than I am. And here's a family tree, borrowed from this fucked up website, which you'd think would be helpful but is in fact not very helpful except to remind you that it's all very complicated.
Nathan suddenly started reaching for pages during this book, so I think we can safely say that he's learned how to read at 14 weeks. He is a genius!
OtNathan suddenly started reaching for pages during this book, so I think we can safely say that he's learned how to read at 14 weeks. He is a genius!
Other Skills My Son Has Already Totally Nailed - Punching self in face - Eating own shirt - Staring at bright lights - Creating chins - Flailing
Cecily suggested that I get him started on writing reviews, which I have done. Here's what he has to say: "The body of literature in this household is inconsistent regarding its fauna population. What exactly is the timeline here? Do the events of this book, in which the elephant is too big and I send it back, occur before or after I locate my elephant based on his tusk smoothness? I was under the impression that the giraffe successfully overcame its problematic height by learning to dance. I'm unable to confirm anything at all regarding the provenance of the bunny. Did the zoo send that as well? Why doesn't the zoo just ask me what kind of animal I would prefer? The 'ship first, question later' method seems ineffective. Honestly, I see no reason to have only one animal in the - ooh, lightbulb."...more
Iceberg Slim didn't invent the great American pimp archetype in 1969 but he codified it, he exposed it to mass culture, so he's an influential writer.Iceberg Slim didn't invent the great American pimp archetype in 1969 but he codified it, he exposed it to mass culture, so he's an influential writer. Everything from Slick Rick to blaxploitation to the pathetic "pickup artist" scene owes a debt to him. So when Robin Kelley writes for the New Yorker, "I'm always amazed when I encounter well-read people unfamiliar with Iceberg Slim," I kinda get it. But it begs the question: does influence equal value? I mean, is this a good book?
It's not terribly pleasant to read. For one thing, it uses more unfamiliar slang than A Clockwork Orange. You're gonna need the glossary in the back, or a jive translator. For another, the things it describes are unpleasant. Its narrator, who is more or less actually Iceberg Slim, has a dim opinion of women. He does bad things to them. That's an understatement.
He is somewhat repentant. Borrowing a trope from Fanny Hill and Vanity Fair, he presents Pimp as a cautionary tale, and unlike those two books he seems to mean it; he doesn't glorify his life. Much. Big Daddy Kane's mileage apparently varied.
The book competently follows your basic biopic plot arc. Naive youngster learns the game; rises to the top of the game; hubris; fall; wisdom. (The other way these stories end is the Scarface way, but since this is a memoir you already know that's not happening.) There's a noir influence: "She was brown-skin murder in a size-twelve dress." There are some trenchant and self-aware points made about what it means for a black man to pimp a black woman to a white man. So, is it good? Sortof, sure. It does a good job of being what it is. It is well-written.
So this ends up sortof in the same department as Ulysses. It's influential and effective, but you're unlikely to enjoy the actual experience of reading it. "The account of my brutality and cunning as a pimp will fill many of you with revulsion," says Slim, showing, as he often does, remarkable perception....more
I got Zuckerman's Creature for my niece when she was very young, and at the time I thought man, you know what would be great is if this dude made a boI got Zuckerman's Creature for my niece when she was very young, and at the time I thought man, you know what would be great is if this dude made a book that was really aimed at kids. Well, if you wait long enough......more
Just gonna buy this and call Marieke and make all the noises and make her feel bad because I am so much better at making plane noises than she'll everJust gonna buy this and call Marieke and make all the noises and make her feel bad because I am so much better at making plane noises than she'll ever be.
my kid will be like "will you read it to me" and I'll be like shut up kid, not everything's about you....more
Or Rabbit Gets Woke, in which Rabbit is turned on to and back off of the hippie movement with the convenient help of a barely legal teenager who showsOr Rabbit Gets Woke, in which Rabbit is turned on to and back off of the hippie movement with the convenient help of a barely legal teenager who shows up like "I love blowjobs, can I live with you?" and a crazy black guy who will not shut up. Rabbit Redux is Updike's Go Ask Alice, a bizarre, racist rant about Vietnam and the dangers of marijuana that culminates with the black guy jerking off as Rabbit reads Frederick Douglass out loud to him.
In Rabbit, Run, the plot moved forward largely in sex scenes, enormous chunks of the book that described and deepened the characters as they tried to connect with each other. Many of the pages in Rabbit Redux are also about sex, but now Updike's just jerking off to fantasies of pulling interracial Eiffel Towers. It's weird and it's bad.
At least the sex scenes are just bad and not boring, like much of the rest of the book. Speech after speech about Vietnam and the Merovingians and the nature of the universe, delivered by what Updike, who is neither, imagines a pot-addled black guy might sound like. It's so weird that I wonder whether anyone else has ever read this book at all, because shouldn't this be mentioned whenever anyone talks about Updike? "Remember Rabbit Redux, where he reads Frederick Douglass while a guy jerks off in front of him? That was a weird fuckin' disaster, huh?" When Updike died in 2009 there was all this debate over whether he was the greatest writer of the 20th century (David Baddiel) or a penis with a thesaurus (David Foster Wallace). I feel like every article should have led with "John Updike, who once wrote a scene where a dude reads Frederick Douglass while another guy whacks off..."
If you'd like someone to tell you how to feel about c-sections, formula feeding, circumcision, cry-it-out, and fertility treatments, here is your bookIf you'd like someone to tell you how to feel about c-sections, formula feeding, circumcision, cry-it-out, and fertility treatments, here is your book. The answers, in order: never, never, never, never, and never.
Look, my wife recently gave birth, with a midwife and a doula on her team. I know there are too many c-sections in America, and we hoped to avoid what's called the cascade of interventions. So it's not that I don't understand parts of some of Elisa Albert's arguments. (The beginning parts.) The difference is that I don't presume to tell other people how to have their children, and that I didn't write a book claiming that anyone who gets a c-section has been raped.
"What is the worth of a person who chooses ignorance?" Albert asks, seriously, about a friend who asks her to stop emailing links comparing medical intervention to rape, writing her right off as a thought zombie and rape inviter.
Albert talks a lot about feminism, and make no mistake: if your definition of feminism differs in any way from hers, she thinks you're an idiot. And if you'd like confirmation that her protagonist is her marionette, hereareinterviews.
Here she is on formula: "Plug your kid with some processed milk derivative shit...how empowered you are, subverting a basic function of your body," showing absolutely no awareness of the agony and misery some women go through trying to breastfeed. Imagine being a woman who's found herself unable to do so, as some of my friends have, even after enormous effort and consultants and pumping, and then running across this scathing bully just peein' on your face.
Albert makes plans to have her next child "naturally," by any means. "If I die trying? If we both do? Fine," she says, choosing the word "fine" to describe death. Here is what Albert thinks of medical intervention: "Like if some corporation convinced us all that shitting is not necessary. You need not labor over the toilet, ladies and gentlemen." Here she is comparing childbirth to pooping.
I don't want to get all caught up on the fact that this is a screed written by an asshole who's actively trying to endanger people and overuses bad metaphors involving shit and rape. It's also a novel. But it's hard, because it's more of a rant than a novel. As a novel, it is bad. It has a dire plot problem, in that there isn't one. You can't keep the sock puppet characters straight. I did like the breastfeeding swap idea! I brought it up with our new-parent friends. Most of them felt that it was squicky. Margaret was like *shrug* yeah, I've done it.
But again, the headline here is this: if you had a c-section - for any reason, including your life or the life of your child - "You were raped, essentially."
Elisa Albert is an asshole. Fuck this book....more
One of our favorites. Written entirely in sixteenth-note alliterative tongue twisters, it's not for bed time - not at all a relaxing experience - butOne of our favorites. Written entirely in sixteenth-note alliterative tongue twisters, it's not for bed time - not at all a relaxing experience - but tons of fun to trade stanzas with your partner, and will probably be even more fun to watch the kid fail at reading it if he ever stops failing to read at all....more
If it hadn't been for the murder, we'd have thought it a very smooth gig.
That's a wild thing to say, first because it happened, and second because thi
If it hadn't been for the murder, we'd have thought it a very smooth gig.
That's a wild thing to say, first because it happened, and second because this is what he says about it. And that's the flavor of this memoir, which amounts to the most intricate junkie's excuse ever written.
After lunch I headed for the Londonderry Hotel to celebrate. There, unfortunately, the bedroom caught fire...it was faulty wiring in the room. But who would believe that?
Well, I might have the first couple times, but this is at least the fourth time his room has caught fire. He takes credit for one of them. (Sorry, Hugh Hefner!) But car crashes, arrests, deaths, addictions...Keith Richards has an excuse for all of it.
So he's a twat. Don't pick this book up hoping to like Keith Richards. Mick Jagger comes in for some brutal vitriol, and I'm sure he's a twat too, but ask yourself this: What kind of person, engaged in a tremendously successful 50-year partnership, writes a book slagging his partner off?
But you pick it up for the stories, for the life. Keith Richards is one of the pioneers of the debauched rock star existence, and of course his existence at all is a scientific miracle. He has stories upon stories, and many of them are interesting.
And he has a lot to teach about guitar. I've played guitar most of my life, and my favorite parts of this book are when he talks about music, which he hears and understands deeply and passionately. So that's why I can't play Stones songs: he's using open tuning and he took one of his strings off. He gets into a detailed description of how and why that simplified tuning frees him, and you're like oh. He also makes the best argument for slinging your guitar low I've ever heard, but he's still wrong - that's an idiotic thing to do - so, y'know, your mileage may vary but it's interesting to hear. Early on he dissects one lick in the background of one bar of an Elvis Presley song for an entire page, just paying homage to Scotty Moore who played it. I love it.
So he is brilliant, and he's tripped over some wisdom. "It's impossible not to end up being a parody of what you thought you were," he says. At one point he cites Voltaire and Pasternak over the course of two pages.
But like many celebrities, he's been convinced that his cute tics are actually cute tics, and they are not. Most glaringly, he's one of those assholes who thinks he's so post-sexism and post-racism that he can say sexist and racist things because he's earned the right. "Feminists didn't like ['Some Girls'] either. We always liked to piss them off. Where would you be without us?" he asks, and it's hard to imagine what he thinks the answer is. Elsewhere, "Then they told me that I was not actually white. To the Jamaicans...I'm black but I've turned white to be their spy." Sigh. He argues that he loves women and black people, he's just beyond politeness; that's a familiar argument and there's a kernel of truth in it. But at the same time...what if you were to try neither acting nor talking like an asshole? Why is that so hard?
And in any case, he is an asshole, a world-class one. A junkie and a petty backstabber and a schmuck. Come for the stories; don't come for the man....more
You can't spend too much time figuring Iris Murdoch out. It's better to just buckle in with her. Her characters are basically insane, and so are her pYou can't spend too much time figuring Iris Murdoch out. It's better to just buckle in with her. Her characters are basically insane, and so are her plots, and so are her sentences. They have a tidal effect; they pull you under.
Under the Net reminds me of Martin Amis's Money, or more accurately Money reminds me of it. They feature amoral protagonists in the entertainment industry, and they're both nuts. I actually think Money is a little better. It's certainly amped up, which is startling considering how far Murdoch is already amped past mostly everyone else.
She published this, her first novel, in 1954, so just before the similarly unhinged On the Road blew up the Beats. She was Irish, and you know how Irish novelists are. (Recent discussion: "Has there ever been a sane Irish author?")
So far as the plot matters, it follows Jake Donaghue through a series of misadventures. He kidnaps a dog. He schemes to get money, while steadfastly turning down every opportunity to have it. He gets drunk. He discusses philosophy and socialism. The most memorable character is the dog.
Murdoch is not my favorite author. I like her but I'm not burning to read every one of her books. I'm going to read some of them, though! They strain at the seams. She's thoroughly off on her own trip and you're not invited to participate; you may watch. She's distinct, thus the like. Some books are like marathons and some like sprints, and hers are like meandering chases through side streets, after which you are out of breath and sweaty and you've pulled a hamstring and you're not sure if you lost the guy chasing you or not....more
This is currently our favorite book about sleeping babies. It advises all naps, all the time - the adage that "sleep begets sleep" is currently in vogThis is currently our favorite book about sleeping babies. It advises all naps, all the time - the adage that "sleep begets sleep" is currently in vogue. (Its primary champion is Marc Weissbluth, whose Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child I haven't read.) When your mother tells you to keep them awake during the day so they'll sleep better at night, says Kennedy, she is full of shit. You'll make him overtired, at which point his body will release adrenaline, thinking something is wrong, at which point he'll be beyond sleep, in the crying zone, and now you're fucked. That sounds familiar, oh parent, doesn't it? Yes, it does.
Instead, Kennedy recommends looking for signs that he's tired - "doing anything other than smiling delightedly at you" is close enough - and then setting up a careful series of Pavlovian triggers to make him fall asleep, after about 75-90 minutes during the day and then all night starting around 7 pm. This seems great, because then we can just go out to bars. Parenting is easy!
But if you're still having trouble, Kennedy also has this advice:
There will come a time when your baby is so stimulated by you that she can't easily fall asleep in your arms (and possibly in your presence). The time has come to put the baby down.
The Old Yeller treatment sounds extreme, but I can see how it would permanently solve the problem. And Nathan's cutest days may be behind him anyway. ...more
Can't believe I've never remembered to put this on my shelves. I love this graphic novel, which turns teen sexuality (and terror of same) into a metapCan't believe I've never remembered to put this on my shelves. I love this graphic novel, which turns teen sexuality (and terror of same) into a metaphor that's, like, Hawthornian in its perfection and simplicity. ...more
When you hear "tragic flaw" you think of hubris, probably, or curiosity, or the desire to fuck your mom, but here's the tragic flaw Michael Henchard hWhen you hear "tragic flaw" you think of hubris, probably, or curiosity, or the desire to fuck your mom, but here's the tragic flaw Michael Henchard has in Hardy's blazing character study: he's an asshole.
He's not bad, exactly. He has a sense of justice, or at least he develops one. As the book opens, he auctions off his wife for five shillings in a fit of drunken pique. When he sobers up and realizes what he's done, he swears off drinking. He tries to be better. Later on in a fistfight, he ties one hand behind his back because he's bigger than the guy he's facing. This is his justice.
It's also his assholery, because he starts the fight, and that's what plagues him through the book: he's just a dick. People don't like him. He can't bring himself to be nice to folks. You know people like this, right? You probably work with one. Sometimes you come into work and you're like, "Today I'm just gonna be nice to Steve. I'm sure if I just try a little harder, we can have a good relationship." Because you know it's not that Steve actually wants everyone to hate him. He just has a really fucked up social IQ. But then you have a meeting with him and he blurts out something wicked rude, because that's how Steve is, and you're like gah, I just can't do it. Some people are just assholes. That's an interesting thing to look at, and I think Henchard is a great character.
Mayor also has Hardy's usual batch of stunningly cinematic scenes. A ruined Roman amphitheater provides several of them, as does a hay loft where Susan at one point is covered by a golden shower of wheat husks. But it wasn't Hardy's favorite. According to Michael Schmidt, he "reckoned that of all his novels the one most damaged by the exigencies of serialization was The Mayor of Casterbridge; the need for incident week after week made for too much plot." And it's true that it feels like there's some loose flesh hanging off that gruesome skeleton. It's not my favorite either. (Tess and Jude are my favorites.) But Henchard is one of my favorite characters. He's one of literature's great gaping assholes, and that's quite an achievement....more
I read all these old-timey books when I was a kid - this is from 1952 - and came away with all these ideas like, for example, that trains are for wearI read all these old-timey books when I was a kid - this is from 1952 - and came away with all these ideas like, for example, that trains are for wearing bonnets on. (This turns out not to be the case.) But I also learned that
It starts with some history - a little Darwin and a lot of Mendel, the monk who spent his whole life geeking out over pea plants, and who I remember as being the most boring part of a very boring 9th grade biology class (why is high school so awful at making science interesting? It's so interesting!). And some other, lesser-known characters. This is what Mukherjee did in Emperor of Maladies, too: the history of research into a thing. He's good at making it interesting - and he reads a lot of books, so you never know when all of a sudden he's gonna cite Tarzan of the Apes. That's a great bonus for those of us who are book nerds first, science nerds later.
Then it goes into actual DNA stuff with Watson & Crick etc., and here we get into the realm of "There's really no way for me to intuitively grasp any of this," so it's a little tough going for me but I get it a little, I guess.
And in the last third, we talk about all the stuff you're really curious about with genes: - If we're all getting DNA tests when we're pregnant, are we actually engaging in a vague sort of opt-in eugenics? (Yes!) - Remember that book The Bell Curve? WTF was that? (It was bullshit!) - Is there a gay gene or what? (Sortof!) - What personality traits are genetically influenced? (Studies of identical twins separated at birth find that they tend to agree on sexual preference, religion and politics. That's bananas.)
I raised an eyebrow a little when Mukherjee discussed kids with Downs Syndrome: he ascribes to them a genetic tendency toward sweetness, and my wife (who works with disabled children) adamantly denies that's a thing. She says Downs Syndrome kids are just kids; it's condescending and damaging to insist they're naturally sweet, and also laughably incorrect if you've spent much time with Downs Syndrome kids. Science agrees with my wife, so now we're reminded that it's dangerous to pick any one person as one's authority on any one thing. Mukherjee is well-intentioned but what else is he wrong about? So, y'know, warning: no one's got all the answers.
Mukherjee has many of them, though, and this is a fun-to-read and informative book....more