Ugh, this book. It sounds pretty interesting, right? A mother and child are held captive in a room, which is the only place the poor child has ever knUgh, this book. It sounds pretty interesting, right? A mother and child are held captive in a room, which is the only place the poor child has ever known. The story is told from his perspective. But, you know what? Sometimes people with interesting ideas are terrible, terrible writers. If Stephen King had written this, it probably would have been terrifying and compelling and awesome (not that I think of King as, like, a paragon of good writing, but he's about ten thousand times more capable than Donoghue).
Here's the thing that bothered me: the child narrator is question is not believable as a child, or as a narrator, or even really as a human. He makes errors in speech that no child would make, typically developing or otherwise, but then he is somehow capable of reading Alice and Wonderland and talking about how things are agonizing. I think Donoghue was trying to make the kid sound realistic, but she really just made him sound like a full-grown adult trying to write like a child. And there's over three hundred pages of his narration. Seriously. That's three hours of my life that I'll never get back.
But, if that wasn't enough, there's all sorts of preachiness about Jesus, and heaven and faith. Also, weird moralistic lessons about living with less, which felt out of place because we probably shouldn't try to live as if we've been stuck in a shed with only the barest essentials for seven freaking years. The only positive thing I can say is that it's slightly better than Divergent, but it's definitely worse than anything else I've read this year. Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go read some Calvino in an attempt to wash the bad taste of this book out of my brain....more
Summary: corporate shills just keep getting richer. Hip people don't have much furniture but all of it is white and expensive. Best Coast and Pretty LSummary: corporate shills just keep getting richer. Hip people don't have much furniture but all of it is white and expensive. Best Coast and Pretty Lights were somehow the best indie music references the writer could come up with, which is just silly because there's an entire website called Pitchfork that exists for people who want to know what "the best new music" is so that they can namedrop in exactly these types of situations. Manic pixie dream girl. Creative types never seem to do any real creating but real creating can also be kind of bullshit and what is art anyway? Pharmaceuticals. Manic pixie dream girl climax (see what I did there?). Opaque denouement.
Yeah, so I liked this more than I thought I would. I mostly just read it because I liked the cover and I wanted to read something fairly light so I figured why not read a light book with a nice cover? That, by the way, is a pretty good example of how I make decisions.
So this book has an asshole protagonist who's sadistic, satirical, and amusing. I saw a couple negative reviews of this book that said that it was not good because the protagonist isn't relatable, which is a bullshit reason to dislike a book. When Nabokov asked his students what it meant to be a good reader, he said that "the students leaned heavily on emotional identification, action, and the social-economic or historical angle. Of course, as you have guessed, the good reader is one who has imagination, memory, a dictionary, and some artistic sense–-which sense I propose to develop in myself and in others whenever I have the chance."
Right, so the character is not one you'll identify with on an emotional level, but if you think that's important than you're doing reading wrong.
Anyway, the hipster assholes who populate The Deep Whatsis would probably enjoy that reference, expect that Nabokov on literature is a pretty obvious one to make and probably I should have found something from one of Ingmar Bergman's minor films, but whatever I don't have time for that and I don't care.
3.5 stars, but I'm rounding up to 4 because I'm heavily caffeinated and I like the cover....more
This really is an incredible story of life in the midst of World War II. When I think of the second world war, I mostly imagine the war in Europe. AftThis really is an incredible story of life in the midst of World War II. When I think of the second world war, I mostly imagine the war in Europe. After all, most of the books, films, and related cultural narratives focus on Europe. However, the United States was only drawn into the war after an attack made by Japan, and the war didn't actually end until Japan surrendered, so there really should be more of a focus on the Pacific theater, especially in the US.
Hillenbrand's true story of Louis Zamperini, whose Army Air Force plane was shot down during a rescue mission in the Pacific, brings much-needed attention to the other side of the war. I was shocked and saddened by the terrible conditions in Japanese prisoner of war camps, of which I knew nothing. Because Japan has been an ally of the United States for so long, much of the Japanese story (the horrors inflicted on allied soldiers captured by the Japanese, as well as the camps to which Japanese-Americans were sent to back home) as been swept under the rug. Hillenbrand writes incredibly well, and I expect that this book will appeal even to those who don't normally read history....more
It's easy to lament society's increased obsession with mediocre dystopian love stories, such as Divergent and whatever else kids (and people who are fIt's easy to lament society's increased obsession with mediocre dystopian love stories, such as Divergent and whatever else kids (and people who are far too old to be kids) are reading these days. Sometimes, serious readers want to throw up their hands and completely lose faith in humanity. But do not go gentle into that good night, for John Green is writing meaningful books for kids (and people who are far too old to be kids), and in that there is hope.
What's wonderful about Green is that he captures what it feels like to be a teenager, when everything feels, overwhelmingly, as if it's happening right now, and the stakes feel so much higher than they have any right to. The beauty of being a teenager is that everything is either brand new or far off in the future, and that makes it easy to be hyper-present by default. The sadness, of course, is that teenagers aren't as grown up as they want to be, a fact that no amount of dark eyeliner, body piercings, and shouting matches can change.
Looking for Alaska is set at a boarding high school in Alabama, and deals with many of the activities that teenagers have been known to engage in from time to time. There's smoking, underage drinking, prank-playing, and sex, which may make some puritanical parents keep their kids from reading it (probably in favor of emotionally abuse sparkly vampire fiction, because that doesn't do anything crazy like question patriarchy). John Green takes his characters seriously, but doesn't act as if they're just younger adults. One particularly effective aspect of his writing is that his characters are at once precocious and sophomoric; this adult reader both remembered feeling the way they felt, and realized that they had such strong feelings and impulses because they haven't really developed into full-fledged people yet.
I loved The Fault in Our Stars, and I think I'll continue to pick up Green's books when I'm in the mood for a quick but emotionally-weighty read. While sparkly vampires will likely only appeal to the Abercrombie-aged crowd (do kids still wear that, or is there some new aspirational brand that kids are into these days? Would my point be better made if I mentioned Snapchat? Also, can someone please explain what Snapchat is?), stories that deal with what it means to be human are truly appropriate for all ages.
Ten strangers, mysteriously called to an island, each with a secret they thought would stay buried. They watch, horrified, as their fellow "soldiers"Ten strangers, mysteriously called to an island, each with a secret they thought would stay buried. They watch, horrified, as their fellow "soldiers" (insert a different, incredibly racist word here if you have a previous edition) get picked off one by one.
And Then There Were None is an incredibly fun lithe mystery. There's not much more to say about it, except that it felt familiar yet I still found myself surprised by the resolution. This is the first Agatha Christie book I've read (I know, shameful!), and I'll definitely be reading more. It's fun to have a light read that I can finish in a sitting or two....more
Wow. That was probably the quickest 771 pages I've ever read. Usually, after reading a novel of that size, I feel something like a hangover, as if I'vWow. That was probably the quickest 771 pages I've ever read. Usually, after reading a novel of that size, I feel something like a hangover, as if I've gone overboard and need to reign myself in (usually with 200-ish page non-fiction books). I didn't feel that way upon finishing The Goldfinch. In fact, I felt like reading it again. That, to me, is enough to place it on my dear ones shelf (along with the fact that I've been talking it up incessantly, and forcing myself to not read it, so that I can spend just a little bit more time with Theo).
The Goldfinch is a painting by the Dutch artist, Fabritius. It looks like this:
It's a beautiful painting, although I've never seen it. I stared at it quite a bit while I read, loading up a tiny version of it on my iPhone, zooming in to look at the little chain that leashed the bird to its perch. However, for whatever reason, it reminded me of another painting, a somewhat more famous painting, that I find myself stopping by for a quick visit fairly often when I'm at the Art Institute of Chicago, even though I've seen it a gazillion times:
The interesting thing about Nighthawks isn't really what's going on in the painting: some people at a restaurant in a banal diner on an anonymous corner in New York. No, what's really striking are the details: they're missing. The couple sitting at the bar each drink only an austere cup of coffee, but no food, no menus. They're not interacting. The counter doesn't have a cash register. The walls are bare. The street is empty; the building across the street has no identifying marks, the storefronts are empty, the lights are off, the residents seem to be gone. So really, the thing that makes you keep looking is the fact that the scene is missing all these things we'd expect to see. And, like Nighthawks, Theo, the protagonist of The Goldfinch, is almost tragically defined by the things that are taken from him.
What follows is my summary of The Goldfinch (the novel). It's vague and mostly useless, and you'd do better to just stop reading this and go read The Goldfinch for yourself.
The Tragedy: It's hard for me to say anything about this without spoiling it. Honestly, the less you know about the tragedy, the better. All I can say is that the entire scene is haunting: it kept me up for about an hour, just reading, and then another hour or so, thinking about it. It's perfectly written, and I expect to keep coming back to the image of a beautiful woman walking up the stairs of The Met, umbrella in hand, with Rachmaninoff playing in the background (my addition, but it seems fitting).
The Fallout: Las Vegas, Nevada, in all it's glory. A diaphanous cloud of adolescent anguish, in all its desperate glory. Bad decisions, bad people, but still that sparkling veneer of glamour gives the entire location an artificial glow.
The Return: But it all has to come back to New York, doesn't it? A New York that's haunted by the ghost of lives that could have been, filled with places that evoke memories that may or may not be wanted.
The Redemption?: Well, that's up for you to decide....more
Ah, young adult. I am not someone who routinely reads books written for children, although I won't rule them out either. I guess that makes me Y-curioAh, young adult. I am not someone who routinely reads books written for children, although I won't rule them out either. I guess that makes me Y-curious. Sometimes, I've been pleasantly surprised by the quality of young adult novels (The Fault in Our Stars still has me tearing up), but mostly reading YA reminds me why I usually swing the other way. Enter Divergent. It sounded interesting, it's rated highly, I figured why not? Answer: because it's an awful, awful book. It's the worst thing I've read since Twilight. But I soldiered on, because Divergent is bad in a so bad it's good kind of way. It was worth it, because I got to laugh out loud at quotes like this “Something about him makes me feel like I am about to fall. Or turn to liquid. Or burst into flames.” Or this “I am selfish. I am brave.”
Tris is born into a dystopian version of Chicago in which the city's citizens are divided into factions that are so functionally useless that even a subpar political science student who happened to to high on acid would be like "Dude, that would never work." Scratch that: even the house Republicans would think that this is a terrible idea, and their idea of good government is shutting it down and giving everyone a gun.
Right, so in this world you can only be one type of person: smart, brave, selfless, friendly, or honest. In other words, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and three different types of Hufflepuff. Apparently, these qualities are mutually exclusive, so you can only pick one. Being a multifaceted person (aka Divergent) is deemed incredibly dangerous, probably because writing psychologically real characters is, like, totally hard.
Anyway, the plot of Divergent revolves around all the 16 year olds deciding what type of person they're going to be (because it makes sense to let children whose frontal lobes aren't even fully developed make important decisions that will impact them for the rest of their lives). Then there's a bizarre initiation ceremony that mostly seems to involve kids beating each other up and paintball. Throughout the ephebic shenanigans, we find out that Tris is good at things, even though she's skinny and female. Shocking, no?
What's going on in the world? How did Lake Michigan turn into a marsh? Who has survived whatever apocalypse happened outside of Chicago? Who knows. Instead, we focus on the important things, like tattoos and stuff. The world building is secondary, and filled with all sorts of inconsistencies. For instance, they have the technology to induce crazy hallucinations and output brain activity to a monitor in real time, and without any sort of measuring device (if you know anything about how the brain works, feel free to laugh out loud at the implausibility), but they're somehow unable to bring the CTA trains to a full stop at the stations. Say what?
Side note: as a Chicagoan, I must say that it's unlikely that the CTA buses would still be running after some sort of cataclysmic, world-changing event. I mean, they don't even come as often as they're supposed to after 10pm. Sometimes they do that thing where no buses come for 20 minutes, then two come in a row, which never makes any sense to me. If I had a dollar for every time I've waited much longer than necessary for a bus from the Target on Peterson back to the red line, I'd definitely have enough money to take a cab instead. More unlikely is the idea that the city of Chicago would ever be run by a faction of incorruptible, selfless people. Cute.
Back to the review: this book definitely deserves only one star, based on sheer implausibility. But I am fickle, and I like to be entertained, even at the expense of a book that takes itself far too seriously. For that it gets an additional star. Now, if you excuse me, I have to get back to my gothic horror novel filled with mysterious women bathed in moonlight, because that book makes a lot more sense....more
"The secrets would remain secret - the things he'd seen, the things he'd done. He would repair what he could, he would endure, he would go from year t"The secrets would remain secret - the things he'd seen, the things he'd done. He would repair what he could, he would endure, he would go from year to year without letting on that there were tricks." - Tim O'Brien, In the Lake of the Woods
“There's no one thing that's true. It's all true.” - Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
In the Lake of the Woods is a mystery without a resolution. That's not a spoiler: O'Brien makes this aspect of the book clear from the beginning. There are the references to magic tricks, to things no one knows. Kathy Wade vanished, and it's up to the audience to figure out the trick.
That sounds frustratingly post-modern, but it isn't. In the Lake of the Woods is a tightly constructed thriller. It's deeply disturbing, but also strangely satisfying. It feels as if there's a climax, a denouement, but I'd be hard pressed to tell you what they were. Instead, I'll try to figure out how O'Brien pulled these sleight of hand tricks over on a scrupulous reader such as myself. The magician, of course, never tells....more
Lean In is feminism lite, but mostly in a good way. I don't know that I'm the ideal audience for this book: it seems to me that it's directed towardsLean In is feminism lite, but mostly in a good way. I don't know that I'm the ideal audience for this book: it seems to me that it's directed towards women who want the same opportunities as men, but don't want to be labeled with the dreaded f-word. I'm proud to be a feminist, because it means I can drink scotch and make Star Wars references while wearing 4 inch heels and not feel any gender conflict. However, I think popular books like Lean In are important in that they get people who might be reluctant to talk about feminist issues to talk about feminist issues.
The Good:> Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has a bad-ass resume and a commitment to using actual data to support her arguments about women in the workplace. Data! These data are pretty disheartening: although more bachelors degrees are awarded to women than men, few women obtain leadership positions. People (including women) are more likely to rate career-driven women as "not team players" and "probably difficult to get along with." I got pretty angry when I read that women start turning down career opportunities so that they can prioritize family long before they even think about having kids. Then, when they finally do have babies, they don't go back to work because they don't find their own sloppy seconds fulfilling.
I see a lot of the issues Sandberg addresses fairly often. I'm a women in science, and I attend research talks every week. I make it a point to get there early, sit at the conference table, and ask questions. Others sit at the periphery and elect to be neither seen nor heard. Those Milford Academy-esque wallflowers tend to be women. I'm sure they have things to say; the problem is that they don't speak up. Sadly, it seems to be the same pretty much everywhere. Sandberg encourages women to sit at the table, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Sandberg also does a great job addressing the myth that women can "have it all." Newsflash: no one has it all, not even Mick Jagger. Life is full of trade-off's, which means that every time we decide to do x, we've also elected not to do an infinite number of y's. You can't always get what you want and all that, and anyone who seems to have it all probably doesn't.
The Bad: The differing expectations for men and women are both endemic and systemic: they're more than the sum of our individual decisions. I'm sure that Sandberg's goal is to empower women to succeed, but it feels disingenuous to me to place a burden on individuals to solve societal issues.
Sandberg also (probably inadvertently) reenforces some of the gender stereotypes that have been holding women back in the first place. She mentions that women should allow their husbands to do the housework, even if they're not "doing it right." But, you know what, I'm terrible at housework, and I know plenty of men who can out-clean me. Similarly, Sandberg talks about cooking and food shopping being "mundane." I'm sure some people find these tasks to be boring, but not me. I love going to the grocery store the way other people love going to the mall, and making dinner is usually the highlight of my day. Being a feminist means that I get to enjoy cooking because it's freaking awesome, and not because I have a vagina.
Speaking of husbands, the whole thing comes across as heteronormative and marriage/family centric. I guess that's the demographic Sandberg is writing for, but it's a good thing to be aware of.
Of course, it's also worth noting that "leaning into your career" is a pretty freaking privileged thing to be able to do. Hell, having a career that you find fulfilling also requires a fair amount of privilege. I'm not going to hate on Sandberg because she went to Harvard (I'm not one to talk), but it's something to think about.
The Ugly? I don't accept the pervasive idea that our careers define us. My culture places far too much value on doing, and too little value on being. But we don't just become who we are by adding activities to our lives; it's just as correct to say that we become who we are by subtracting the activities that don't add value. Subtraction takes reflection and insight: we don't get there by constantly checking our email. At the risk of sounding like a hippie yogi shouting "down with the hegemony!" I think things would be much better if we all got out of our offices more often. Truly, there would be less pressure to "lean in" if we all gave ourselves permission to lean out once in awhile....more
"The structural change comes from this point of openness. We talk about this concept of openness and transparency as the high level ideal that we’re moving towards at Facebook. The way that we get there is by empowering people to share and connect. The combination of those two things leads the world to become more open. And so as time has gone on, we’ve actually shifted a bit more of a focus not just on directly making it so people can use Facebook and share and be open on Facebook, but instead on making it so that the systems themselves have open properties.
So, one analogy that we think about is a government or a nation. If you want to be free, or you want to preserve freedom for people, you both need to have laws that make it so people have freedom of speech and all the freedoms that they need. You also need to have an open governance system where people can vote and people have representation.
And we think that over the long-term the way that we actually create the most openness and transparency in the world (at Facebook) is both by creating the most powerful applications ourselves and creating a platform that is fundamentally moving more in the direction of being an open platform itself, right?
So we’re aiming for openness on two levels: One on the fact that there’s more sharing, and another on the fact that by having these open standards, you’re constantly moving towards a place in the industry where there will be more and more sharing, right? So people can bring their information anywhere they want. Anyone can use the platform."
One of the interesting aspects of The Circle is that Dave Eggers isn't speculating about some sort of dystopian future; we're living in it. There has been a lot of media attention paid to government spying recently (for good reason), but people seem to forget about the fact that they've willingly given Facebook far more information about themselves. Facebook knows which events I've been invited to, which parties I've attended, whom I've taken pictures with, which restaurants I've gone to, what books I've read, which news articles I've read, and who my family members are. Even more creepily, it can forecast information to predict who I'm likely to tag in a picture, and whose posts I'm likely to find relevant.
Yeah, so the whole thing is pretty disconcerting, all things considered (the irony of the fact that I'm posting about this on a social network and allowing this social network to automatically connect with Facebook is not lost on me).
Connecting with people is great, but we've also created this strange society in which it's almost impossible to opt-out. Don't go on Facebook, and you won't get invited to karaoke. You won't get the announcement that one of your college buddies just had a baby. There will be pictures of you posted that you will be completely unaware of, probably with comments or likes, possibly timestamped and geotagged with the exact location of your house.
Here's another quote from that Zuckerberg interview:
"Think about what people are doing on Facebook today. They’re keeping up with their friends and family, but they’re also building an image and identity for themselves, which in a sense is their brand. They’re connecting with the audience that they want to connect to. It’s almost a disadvantage if you’re not on it now."
The Circle is about this, mostly, and it's pretty damn fun. Small town California girl Mae Holland lands a job at The Circle, and quickly learns that just doing her job well isn't enough. She's expected to keep up with a deluge of "zings" about whatever inane topic is trending at the time. She has to sift through information about events to find the ones that she's expected to attend. She has to "smile" or "frown" and comment on thousands of daily Circle-related posts just to keep her participation score up. If it sounds exhausting, that's because it is. And the worst part is that Mae eventually convinces herself that this is all worthwhile....more