Surprisingly lovely. I'd heard so much about this novel's experiments with time and pacing and a ballsy chapter made up entirely of powerpoint slidesSurprisingly lovely. I'd heard so much about this novel's experiments with time and pacing and a ballsy chapter made up entirely of powerpoint slides that I was wary of cheap gimmicks in lieu of good storytelling, but A Visit From the Goon Squad manages to be inventive, absorbing, and quietly powerful. The prose is delightful and, crucially, the characters are well-rounded and deftly drawn.
And what a cast of characters they are! This is not a traditional novel that follows a protagonist or several protagonists through a story arc (from inciting action to climax to resolution). This is a novel that introduces many tangentially related characters (like the film Crash) whose lives are explored in one chapter and variously woven or hinted at throughout the narrative. "Time's a goon," says one character, and the novel shows us how true that is. Relationships, seemingly life-changing incidents or moments of quiet, disaster or safety are upended in a season, in a handful of years, in a week.
Does time make fools of us all? In many cases, yes. Several characters, seen at the top of their game, end up destroyed, faded, humiliated, coping. Some begin confused but find a light and pursue it home. But time waits for no one, and so the novel chugs along, dipping into characters' lives for a few moments, observing them from an angle, and then moving on, until we meet them again several chapters later, at a dinner party, where ten years have passed and we learn that, in that time, they left their wonderful wife, their children have grown, they were fired from their company, and they're hatching a last-ditch effort at relevancy. A Visit From the Goon Squad treats its characters the way life treats us - as tiny players with transitory problems and triumphs, not all documented or even realized, but always moving and marching towards its beat.
The genius of Jennifer Egan's rendering is her ability to capture a flesh and blood character in a small amount of time and space, and to draw out their life in a way that shows emotional depth and growth. Not all of her characters are sympathetic (there's a celebrity journalist who tries to rape his subject; a glamorous PR executive who, after a career-ending mistake, must work to humanize a genocidal dictator; a predatory, emotionally confused record executive), but in her hands, she makes them human and humble, and in the process, makes us feel like a god in transcending the normal bounds of time and surveying the bits and pieces that make up a life....more
I First heard of Dan Ariely through his TED talk, and was impressed by his clever social experiments and charmed by his demeanor. Predictably IrrationI First heard of Dan Ariely through his TED talk, and was impressed by his clever social experiments and charmed by his demeanor. Predictably Irrational brings more of that intrigue, revelation, and charm to real world situations, and the results are no less surprising. The book is convincing and immensely readable.
Ariely is a behavioural economist who studies how people actually behave rather than how they should behave. After years of studying, he's come up with a rather dismal conclusion: humans are not only irrational in their decision making, but predictably irrational, which is to say that we are consistently irrational in the face of particular factors. His many studies, which start with an innocuous question, then move to the experiment itself and its surprising results, back up this claim. Some questions he considers: do we get more relief from expensive drugs (if we know they're expensive) than cheaper drugs? Why do cautious people make bad decisions about sex when they're aroused? Why are most people okay with stealing office supplies, but not money?
With rigorous studies, clear, friendly prose, and a surprising amount of warmth, Ariely brings to life what would normally be a pretty dry read. Most importantly, he explodes the standard economic theory that market forces are rational because humans are rational (the "market knows best" approach). With his studies he shows that we often work against our own self-interest, are shockingly susceptible to the unconscious mind, and frequently underestimate our own limitations....more
Boy, did I struggle with this novel! It received such rave reviews, and the author Tom Rachman is from Vancouver, which made me really want to love itBoy, did I struggle with this novel! It received such rave reviews, and the author Tom Rachman is from Vancouver, which made me really want to love it - and I do, sort of. The Imperfectionists is a collection of vignettes about editors who work at a failing international newspaper in Rome. They're all, without exception, unhappy to varying degrees.
First, let's say that I admire Rachman's economy with language, how he's able to paint such finely tuned portraits without descending into cartoonish parodies. He's deft and detailed and he knows his characters well. That's a great feat in and of itself. But - and this is a very subjective but - the characters are so miserable - at turns greedy, cold, calculating, pathetic, incompetent, repressed and generally unlikeable - that I find it impossible to care about any of them. They're all doomed, the lot of them, including the newspaper itself. Within the first few pages of each vignette, you know that the character in question is destined for an inevitable, humiliating decline. By the end, your suspicions are confirmed.
That editors are an neurotic, exacting, and overworked bunch is a bit of a cliche. Rachman, an editor himself, may know this first-hand, and it may very well be true, but I found the miserable humanity in the novel blunt and relentless. Maybe this is a comment on the decline of newspapers and print media in general - the bastardization of what was once a noble, civic calling? Maybe? I don't know. Emotionally, the novel left me cold. I enjoyed (sometimes marveled at) the craft of Rachman's writing, but I didn't enjoy the particulars of his stories. They left me with a kind of dread and impotent rage. That he could elicit strong emotions from me is a testament to his skills as a writer. I just wish Rachman had included one character (ONE!) who wasn't a total idiot/asswipe/emotional failure/wreck/case study. It would have made the rest go down easier.
Despite this, I recommend The Imperfectionists. Rachman's style deserves admiration and study. Just don't expect a fun, uplifting read - that is, unless schadenfreude's your thing. ...more
The first book of poetry that I could genuinely appreciate and take on its own terms without caviling about "meaning" or "subjectivity." Really, reallThe first book of poetry that I could genuinely appreciate and take on its own terms without caviling about "meaning" or "subjectivity." Really, really beautiful. ...more
Oh, Robert Pinsky! With this slender tome you transformed me from an eye-rolling poetry-is-dead malcontent to an invigorated poetry puzzler. I took thOh, Robert Pinsky! With this slender tome you transformed me from an eye-rolling poetry-is-dead malcontent to an invigorated poetry puzzler. I took the time to notice power verbs, to marvel at the incredible draw of rhyming couplets (primal?), and finally, to allow poetry's ambiguity to wash over me instead of trying to subdue it. Marvelous. ...more
This is a fantastic collection of long form articles and instructional essays on feature writing. Topics include pitching, researching, interviewing,This is a fantastic collection of long form articles and instructional essays on feature writing. Topics include pitching, researching, interviewing, and building structure. The articles that accompany each chapter are great reads (especially Malcolm Gladwell's "The Ketchup Conundrum" - at turns bittersweet, informative, and theatrical), and they help to illustrate the chapter's lessons. I've returned to The Bigger Picture many times to re-read and dissect articles, to reacquaint myself with aspects of structure, and to find comfort and solace in what happens to be one of my favourite pastimes: reading writers writing about writing (so meta). This is a real gem. Highly recommended. ...more
The worst drivel I've ever had the displeasure of reading. A good friend lent it to me, raving about enlightenment and altered worldviews, and even thThe worst drivel I've ever had the displeasure of reading. A good friend lent it to me, raving about enlightenment and altered worldviews, and even though the cover was off-putting, I didn't have the heart to turn her down. I read 45 pages and couldn't read a page more. I simply could not. The book is self-indulgent, ridiculous, egocentric, and transparently striving for (and failing at) profundity. It luxuriates in feel-good spirituality that amounts to simply this: You are a star. Now shine! This is self-esteem inflation gone mad. Hate.
If Elizabeth Gilbert's voice was at all believable or honest, I could forgive the never-ending navel-gazing, lame platitudes, and abrupt prayer quotes in italics, but Gilbert's prose is so self-aware, so calculated and contrived, so self-satisfied, that I distrust the entire endeavor. As a memoir, this is problematic.
Eat, Pray, Love is the single worst book I've read this year. Its continued popularity is mystifying. ...more