Brosh's piece about "Identity" and self-image is proof enough of her genius. The precise combination of her wit and depth and heart makes her not just...moreBrosh's piece about "Identity" and self-image is proof enough of her genius. The precise combination of her wit and depth and heart makes her not just a Special Snowflake - as the saying goes, we're ALL Special Snowflakes - but she's one that shatters the ground on impact. She's the Beatles, she's Jackie Onassis, she's Michaels Jordan and Jackson, she's the Muppets, she's The Simpsons, she's 99 Luftballoons, and if we don't hurry up and admit that, then we don't know talent when we see it.(less)
This was lovely. Hilariously terrifying memories of a Soviet boy transplanted to the mayhem that is the 1980s New York metropolitan area. (Unlike Shte...moreThis was lovely. Hilariously terrifying memories of a Soviet boy transplanted to the mayhem that is the 1980s New York metropolitan area. (Unlike Shteyngart, I was a native on that scene, but I was equally terrified by the enthusiasm of Juicy Fruit commercial he mentions.)
This book is not everything I had hoped it would be. There's more rambling, meandering, speechifying here than in his novels, which always deliver brilliant truths in perfect brevity. But any disappointment I feel is just a testament to how much I've come to expect from Shteyngart, how all my memories of reading his work and listening to his speeches and delighting in his book videos have melted into the glowing feeling of being impressed.
Compared to the rest of Shteyngart, I liked it a lot. Compared to what else is on my shelves, I'm very impressed.(less)
Glad I read it because everyone has a story to tell and one person's eyewitness experience of such a monumental moment in history is just as valid as...moreGlad I read it because everyone has a story to tell and one person's eyewitness experience of such a monumental moment in history is just as valid as another's. Constant typos, the inability to consistently spell any German names or words, and the discordant nature of the stories are, however, detractors. The editor could have done a lot better.(less)
Adorno said, "There can be no art after the Holocaust." No justifiable reason to produce anything beautiful; no possible way to portray the Holocaust...moreAdorno said, "There can be no art after the Holocaust." No justifiable reason to produce anything beautiful; no possible way to portray the Holocaust in anything as beautiful as art.
Lo and behold, the half-century proceeding this declaration has produced a plethora of art about the Holocaust. Isn't art the best way to be drawn in? I finished Maus in twenty-four hours. I had nightmares for two nights in a row. Books like these show me that I often forget just how harrowing it invariably is to be drawn into it.
But my admiration for Spiegelman's sense of subtlety, irony and honesty is nevertheless enshrouded in echoes of Adorno's assertion. I get it that he intended to deconstruct the delusion of separate races by parodying it. (Swedes as elk and Brits as fish!) But I can't help but sit uncomfortably with the worry of how easily it lends itself to misinterpretation, much in the same way others argue Life Is Beautiful allows for too much levity.
Cats instinctually kill mice. Dogs chase cats and are Man's Best Friend. Follow this line and you're right back at the doorstep of racism. Had every nationality been represented by animals that are not anthropomorphically stereotyped, the parody would be less vulnerable to misinterpretation. And the reduction of a Sinti woman to a gypsy moth who appears in a book about the Holocaust ONLY to tell a Jewish woman her fortune tastelessly obscures the Nazi genocide of the Roma and Sinti.
Nevertheless, I understand why Spiegelman used such an artistic medium to tell his father's story, and I understand why it was awarded the Pulitzer. Adorno's argument is significant, but ignores that art is the enemy of fascism. The countless portrayals in literature and film that have come out of the Holocaust can very well be viewed as an endless celebration of the Nazi failure. (less)
In March 2010, Rabbi David Wolpe debated Hitchens on the topic of (what else?) religion and eventually sputtered, "Don't interrupt me! I didn't interr...moreIn March 2010, Rabbi David Wolpe debated Hitchens on the topic of (what else?) religion and eventually sputtered, "Don't interrupt me! I didn't interrupt you."
Hitchens smiled. "No, you weren't quick enough."
If that sort of delicious irony makes you swoon, you'll likely adore Hitchens' memoir. If that sort of disrespectful self-regard makes you seethe, you're unlikely to enjoy less than one page of it. I find myself in the middle, possibly the one and only Person On Earth Who Feels Moderately About Christopher Hitchens.
I adore him for his wit and his relentless expounding on the value of dissidence. But I've known many a dissident who's half in it for the ego boost, and Hitchens has yet to convince me he's not one of them. He openly admits to being a Trotskyist who cannot divorce himself from the joys of the gentleman's lifestyle (books, booze and name-dropping). At times I find myself enamored of the intricacies of such a union, and other times enraged by the inherent contradictions.
He could be a little less Eurocentric in his predilections. And his insistence that work trumps experience either ignores or defends the short-sighted arrogance of many intellectuals. But his passion for a life spent arguing oneself an identity is absolutely infectious. I do hope he's around long enough to offer us more of his thoughts.
Lamott is the type of California lefty that is not my type - a loopy, believing, recovering addict who makes up the rules as she goes along. But she i...moreLamott is the type of California lefty that is not my type - a loopy, believing, recovering addict who makes up the rules as she goes along. But she is so damn funny. By never taking herself too seriously, she enables her reader to see when her life clearly is very serious.(less)
I have two things in common with Elizabeth Gilbert: I married a foreigner, and I really, really don't want to ever get divorced. As my partner and I p...moreI have two things in common with Elizabeth Gilbert: I married a foreigner, and I really, really don't want to ever get divorced. As my partner and I planned our wedding and crafted our vows, we were inspired of course by love but also by the many shattered relationships we had observed, hoping to learn everything we could. Not to be better than anyone; on the contrary, to avoid hubris. I wanted my 50 year-old self to look back at my 28 year-old self and be proud, not shaking her head at any flighty, unrealistic declarations in the extreme that are all too common in youth. Having been underwhelmed by the "P" in Eat Pray Love, the "Skeptic" in Gilbert's second volume enticed me to give her a try.
If you've been suspicious of the institution of marriage only occasionally, or in fact don't quite understand what anyone could possibly have against such a fairy tale of joy, this book will probably get you thinking. If, however, you're well-versed in world history and feminism and are suspicious of marriage for those very reasons, this book will offer almost NOTHING new. Gilbert chit-chats about the many ugly marriage traditions from the oppression of women to racism to heternormativity to economics, cushioning each discussion with heavy slices of cheese. I felt as though I had joined a ladies' luncheon led by a well-meaning but not very well-read neighbor who had learned about these topics for the very first time from a few clips on NPR. Her heart is in the right place, but her ideas are tidbits and factoids, not refined concepts or arguments. And, like many a kind, older neighbor, she unwittingly condescends to her audience. Appreciating her sentiment but writhing at her style, I found myself clenching my teeth in a polite smile.
And, my god. "I mean." "But I just want to say here..." "Sorry for the rant." "This is just a really, really big issue of mine." It appears that publishers will call ANYTHING a book these days. Can I just send my diary to Viking Press, written as conversationally as, like, humanly possible? 'Cuz that'd sure be nice! (Maybe I need to have written a book that made a movie first? Dunno. You tell me.)
Go read Offbeat Bride if you're looking for someone to confront all the moral dilemmas of matrimony with a biting sense of humor and an undeniable talent for a well-turned phrase.
Many authors have been publishing collections of very short, semi-autobiographical essays and musings as of late. Unfortunately, this one is far too l...moreMany authors have been publishing collections of very short, semi-autobiographical essays and musings as of late. Unfortunately, this one is far too lacking in substance, direction, or revelation.(less)
A while back I was ranting about my deep disappointment in Stephen Fry's latest autobiography to a friend, who then asked in all seriousness, "What ma...moreA while back I was ranting about my deep disappointment in Stephen Fry's latest autobiography to a friend, who then asked in all seriousness, "What makes a GOOD autobiography?" My enjoyment of "Manhood for Amateurs" has helped me realize my answer: sharing and musing around a central theme. Like Amy Tan ("The Opposite of Fate"), Gilda Radner ("It's Always Something"), Frank McCourt ("Angela's Ashes") and Barack Obama ("Dreams from My Father"), Chabon has identified a concept that has pervaded his thoughts and life and used it as a basis around which he collects select memories and conclusions. The result is sweet, amusing and well-written, unlike the aimless, often bashful attempts at a chronological epic witnessed in Queen Noor's "Leap of Faith" or Fry's "Chronicles."
Considering the theme he chose, I would have liked to have heard an answer to one of the questions he says he is often asked and only briefly addressed in interviews ("Why do your stories always involve gay and straight men who are friends?"), but even though the personal is the political, it's wrong to begrudge someone their right to privacy.
Oh, Stephen. I wanted to like it, love it, adore it. I really did. His essays, columns, novels, and arguments are always brilliantly concise, laconic,...moreOh, Stephen. I wanted to like it, love it, adore it. I really did. His essays, columns, novels, and arguments are always brilliantly concise, laconic, and profound. But make him sit at the other end of the microscope and all the wit and conviction for which I adore Stephen Fry is displaced by the rambling streams of consciousness I first encountered in MOAB IS MY WASHPOT. The book is part sugary sweet awards-acceptance-speech, buckling under the weight of dropped names, and part therapy session, overrun with denial and the deflection of any awards or praise for himself.
I was determined to finish the book and did so having culled this message from the 200+ pages: "Everyone I've ever worked with is an absolute darling. Let me give you a list of those with whom I have worked. I, however, am worthless. Why you are reading this in the first place is beyond me. Have I convinced you that I'm an idiot yet? No? Well, then I'll repeat this fact throughout the book." Those hoping for his extended opinions of life, death, politics, philosophy, ethics, or art should look elsewhere. If you really care about what he thinks of himself and his colleagues, I suppose it could be an intriguing read. But isn't that what Twitter and Facebook are for? (less)
Stallings is right. The Wedding Industrial Complex is stifling and repelling brides (and grooms) everywhere, and they are desperately in need of alter...moreStallings is right. The Wedding Industrial Complex is stifling and repelling brides (and grooms) everywhere, and they are desperately in need of alternative options and communities to encourage their nonconformity. Naturally, one autobiographical book by one woman can never represent nor satisfy the millions of different nonconformists, but Stallings tries her best to cover all possible topics from the point of view of the quintessential woman determined to celebrate her marriage the way she and her partner want to, and not sheerly because tradition or the Industry dictates it. Considering the magnitude of the task before her, she does an incredible job, and provided me with much-needed advice and solace.
Brides who want to forego only one or two traditions will probably find her too radical when she writes about her disgust with the diamond industry, marriage inequality, cosmetic salons, fathers giving the brides away, and cake-smashing. Brides (like me) who like almost none of the modern white wedding traditions will find her sometimes too conservative when she admits she just HAD to have a gift registry and was talked into having her makeup done by a Hollywood professional.
For the most part, however, she tries vigorously to offer and support two opposing offbeat views on every possible topic. She discusses both her reasons for keeping her name and the plight of feminist brides who change theirs. She points out that for some, "dressed up" can mean wildly painted toenails, and for others, it can mean just remembering to cut your toenails. And she hits something universal when she shares that the guest list was certainly the biggest monster to slay in the battle that was her wedding planning. Through it all she advocates independence, communication, and self-empowerment.
It would be wonderful to have a book less centered around the bride's (and a straight bride, at that) perspective, but this book is essentially the autobiography of a straight woman and one meant to offset effects of the Wedding Industrial Complex, which ultimately targets straight brides more than anyone else involved in a marriage.
Readers wanting to see more conservative, more radical, less heteronormative, or simply more weddings will find her celebrating it all on her website. Both the website and the book make great support systems, if not shields against all the people wanting to offer to "help" you with your wedding.