The African Queen is one of those few ass-kicking novels that comes along and reminds me that there is the occasional sparkling gem of classic genius...moreThe African Queen is one of those few ass-kicking novels that comes along and reminds me that there is the occasional sparkling gem of classic genius buried beneath the massive dung heap of contemporary fiction.
Don't read this book to find the movie in written form. The book and the movie are two different things. The film features Katharine Hepburn in varying states of gorgeous as she travels wild-eyed down a river with the inimitable Humphrey Bogart in an opposites-attract love story. The novel is much, much more, and it's way better.
From the first sentence of the book, we know that Rose Sayer isn't exactly the docile and unwaveringly virtuous missionary woman she's supposed to be. "Had she been weak minded enough to give up" and give in to a bout of malaria, she'd be in bed; instead, she stubbornly resists her illness, praying with her brother and quietly pondering "the absence of her corset" and thinking about the fact that she's "wearing no under clothing at all beneath her white drill frock." (Obviously, this is a chick who's going to go wild the second she's no longer under male supervision. Thank God).
Enter Charlie Allnut, a machinist and a boat captain in Central Africa who should be, by rights, courageous and practical. From the second Charlie appears on the page, we learn that he's "philosophical," "passive," and "content to follow orders."
As soon as Charlie and Rose are alone together, they begin to transform. That is, when order collapses and they're forced to abandon the institutions they've been born into -- rigid Christianity for her and banal practicality for him -- Charlie and Rose become who they really are at their core, and they discover what it really means to live.
After thirty years of "passive misery" in deferring to men, Rose finally makes decisions. Allnut, who has spent his life trying to avoid trouble, learns to face danger, follow a passion, and develop a sense of higher purpose. Even the smaller changes they undergo are charming: Allnut turns to prayer going down the rapids, while Rose's mind "work[s] like a machine" as she navigates; Rose gets buff from all of the manual labor on the African Queen, and Charlie, for once in his life not slacking, almost works his small frame to death; and both, when faced with "the wild beauty of the Ulanga," develop a sense of accomplishment and "seethe with life."
Throw in a pulse-racing adventure down an African river, plus one of the hottest sex scenes I've ever read (precisely for what it doesn't say), and you've got one hell of a novel on your hands.
As for the writing? Worthy of a smirk, an eyebrow raise, and admiration:
"A woman sewing has a powerful weapon at her disposition when engaged in a duel with a man. Her bent head enables her to conceal her expression without apparently trying; it is the easiest matter in the world for her to simulate complete absorption in the work in hand when actually she is listening attentively; and if she feels disconcerted or needs a moment to think, she can always play for time by reaching for her scissors. And some men--Allnutt was an example--are irritated effectively by the attention paid to trifles of sewing instead of to their fascinating selves."
(Just more proof that British writers are ever superior to their American counterparts).
And let's not forget what I can only call "river porn," or, the most suggestive piece of nature writing I've ever seen:
"There was sheer joy in crashing through those waves. Rose, with never a thought that the frail fabric of the African Queen might be severely tired by those jolts and jars, found it exhilarating to head the launch into the stiff rigid waves which marked the junction of two currents, and to feel her buck and lurch under her, and to see the spray come flying back from the bows."
(Whoa. Is it any wonder that, just 3 pages later, she sleeps with a guy without knowing his first name?)
Obviously, there's a reason I read this book in one sitting on a Friday night, only to begin it again on Monday morning. I adore the writing, I find the adventure thrilling, and I think the love story is touching.
Most of all, I enjoy the fact that two people, when forced to abandon their societal roles, discover the beauty of the natural world, and of life itself. We learn that they're fundamentally good people, and by living as who they really are, they become better people.
It's rare to find this much going on in a novel, and that's precisely why The African Queen is one of the few great works of fiction that truly stands out among the garbage.
KICKED ASS so much that I'll probably read it a third time. And a fourth. (less)
Why? Because this isn't a book about the making of "The African Queen."
It's a book about whatever relationsh...moreThis book left me unexpectedly irritated.
Why? Because this isn't a book about the making of "The African Queen."
It's a book about whatever relationship Katharine Hepburn had with the film's director, John Huston.
I suppose I should back up a bit.
Katharine Hepburn is one of those celebrities I don't think I'll ever be able to figure out. She pings my gaydar like no other: she was an outspoken feminist who spent her life dressing like a boy, she never remarried after her divorce, she never had children, she apparently had a massive lust for ladies, and she had decade-long relationships with women. Even Spencer Tracy thought she was a lesbian when her first met her. So she was the most obviously closeted actress ever, but she also managed to sleep with half of the men in Hollywood...
And what about Spencer Tracy, anyway? We've all had the Hepburn/Tracy pairing shoved in our faces, and Hepburn did drop her career for 5 years to care for him. But just because they were a "brand" with great onscreen chemistry doesn't mean that they weren't bearding for each other.
Whether or not the Tracy thing was real, it doesn't change the fact that Hepburn had a real talent for getting married men to fall in love with her: Tracy, John Ford, and Leland Hayward to name a few. (Given Hepburn's track record, I'm guessing that Lauren Bacall came along for the shooting of "The African Queen" for reasons other than merely accompanying her husband -- smart girl).
Whatever happened between Hepburn and Huston during the making of "The African Queen," I'm guessing Hepburn didn't come out the winner in the relationship, and thus she wrote a book that was -- is -- a playful slap at Huston. What's maddening is that Hepburn never cops to it. She alludes to it, drops hints, and dances around it, but she never offers up the goods.
Sure, the book is interesting. The poor cast and crew of "The African Queen" got to deal with lots of fun things on location in Africa, from army ants and alligators to swarming tsetse flies and bouts of dysentery. There are even smirk-worthy moments, such as Hepburn having a bucket by her feet for puking between takes while Bogart and Huston, who had spent a majority of their time in Africa in a drunken stupor, remained in perfect health. Yet there is very little here about the actual production of the film, or what happened on set.
And the most interesting tidbits have absolutely nothing to do with the making of the movie.
When Hepburn has still has disdain for Huston, she takes to observing Lauren Bacall and says, "Let's look at Betty [Bogart] ... She is young and she has lovely tawny skin and she has the most fabulous sandy hair. Beautiful whether it's straight or curled. In fact, you've never seen her until you've seen her in her bright-green wrapper on the way to the outhouse in the early morning with her hair piled up on her head and no lipstick or anything else. Her sleepy-slanty green eyes and her common-sense look and her lost voice and her lanky figure and her apparent fund of pugilistic good nature."
Am I projecting my modern sensibilities on to K.H., or is she checking out Betty Bogart? I suppose it doesn't matter. Lauren Bacall was gorgeous. Anyone would have gawked at her. Whatever. Moving on.
Hepburn proceeds to ramble on, to such an extent that if I looked at one more em dash, I was sure I'd gouge my own eyes out. (I swear the book was dictated). Among the sparsely detailed stories of the pain in the ass that it was to film this picture in Africa, with the equal pain in the ass John Huston at the helm, something happens.
Hepburn loves the cabin that Huston has built for her, and she throws her arms around him ... but she still hates him because he's unprofessional. Then he gives her the "best goddamndest piece of direction" she's ever heard, and she has a new respect for him. Fine. Later, she's out wandering in some African village alone one evening, runs into Huston, and they go off somewhere and share a bottle of wine on a hilltop. She "doesn't remember" what they talked about but "it was magic." When they wander down and join the rest of the cast and crew, Hepburn notes that "Betty was disgusted with me," and "there's a lot to be said for sinning." So, what happened?! Tell us, for Chrissakes! And the next day, the cast and crew remark that Hepburn has fallen under Huston's spell as she takes off on a game hunting safari with him. And no more details. Argh!
Eventually, after a day of filming and puking, Hepburn goes back to her cabin and falls asleep, while Huston and company go get lit up at some local Congolese cantina. A wasted Huston wanders into Hepburn's cabin that night, and this happens:
" 'Just stay alseep, Katie dear. Stay asleep. Asleep--asleep...' And he rubbed my back with his smooth, strong hands. And my head and my neck and my hands and my feet. Such a blessing. Took the trouble from me. It's true--the laying on of hands. So quiet--so sweet--so soothing. He was gentle. I slept. I don't remember what happened when he stopped."
Yeah. Sure you don't. Jesus. If one of my drunk guy friends came into my tropical hut and proceeded to give me a full-body massage... never mind.
Just friends? Suuuuuure.
So I guess this book hasn't done much more for me than make me resent old Hollywood for its cover-ups (Gary Cooper, Rock Hudson, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo) and the time I grew up in (Sally Ride, Jodie Foster, the Defense of Marriage Act, Rosie O'Donnell and Ellen playing straight on TV until the early 2000s) that perpetuated all of the bullshit.
It doesn't matter if Katharine Hepburn was gay or straight, swung both ways with Tracy, checked out Bacall or seduced Huston. Slut or straight laced, it doesn't matter. But I wish that it had just been okay to tell the truth about these things -- about being bisexual, sleeping around, and seducing other women's husbands. It would have made for a better story, and a way better book. And it would have made growing up a lot different for everyone.
As for Katharine Hepburn...I'll never figure her out.
Decent book, so long as you can tolerate Hepburn's staccato style and you're not looking to find out anything about what it was like to make the movie.
I'm hacking off a star for feeling like I was only told half of what could have been a riveting truth. (less)
At 50 pages, No Exit: Struggling to Survive a Modern Gold Rush is too short to be a book and too long to have been shopped around to tech magazines or...moreAt 50 pages, No Exit: Struggling to Survive a Modern Gold Rush is too short to be a book and too long to have been shopped around to tech magazines or content sites. The solution seems to be this .99 cent "e-book."
Our pseudo-book is an entertaining read about the roller coaster ride of the first year of a Silicon Valley start-up.
I just didn't get that into it because I read the same thing (in less than 500 words) on ValleyWag every day. Well, that, and I already lived through the first dot-com bubble: for every Steve Jobs and Larry Page, there were thousands of computer geeks that bypassed college in favor of jobs at AOL, Kozmo, etc. I'm guessing they either went back to school or found jobs pumping gas somewhere....?
Now, as detailed in No Exit, history is repeating itself in Silicon Valley. The thing is, I just don't care about these people. I didn't in 1999, and I don't now.
The only real kernel of interest I found in this "book," was the attitude of a younger, too highly-paid, and very far removed generation of 20-somethings in Silicon Valley, who believe "the whole university system is going to be made obsolete because of technology [because people can learn anything online and through webinars]" and who can't seem to grasp the concept that "coffee shops [and] other...storefronts on streets [are] businesses with costs and revenue models."
I find myself sneering at young, privileged people who opt out of college in favor of work; these types will always know how to code better than you or I ever will, but you'll never have a conversation with them that goes beyond the intellectual level of an uneducated 19 year-old. Ugh.
I adore computer geeks, programmers, and entrepreneurs, but I detest the dimwitted -- nor do I trust any group that believes their method alone will render education "obsolete."
Silicon Valley? Definitely not my crowd.
And definitely not something I want to read about.
Come to think of it, the 50 page thing worked out quite well.
For the first time in my life I finished a book, closed it and set it on my nightstand, stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, and fell asleep.
I ha...moreFor the first time in my life I finished a book, closed it and set it on my nightstand, stared at the ceiling for a few minutes, and fell asleep.
I have nothing passionate to say. Or perhaps I do, but I can't bring myself to write these ideas in a public forum.
The novel clears up many of the ambiguities of the 1958 film, and it answers many questions I was unaware I carried with me. It continues to haunt my thoughts as my mind works out just what it has taken in.
I wanted to read this memoir because I fell in love with Lilli Palmer's face a little when I watched Mädchen in Uniform. Who was thi...moreAh, Lilli Palmer.
I wanted to read this memoir because I fell in love with Lilli Palmer's face a little when I watched Mädchen in Uniform. Who was this woman whose countenance, with every change of the camera angle, shifted between a resemblance of Lucille Ball, Audrey Hepburn, and Julie Andrews? Who was this actress whose presence -- somehow both youthful and regal -- was so commanding that I was holding my breath whenever she was onscreen?
Unfortunately, Lilli Palmer's memoir isn't nearly as exciting as that onscreen presence.
The real problem with this memoir is that it's a lot of performance and very little substance. (Actresses writing books, anyone?) Lilli doesn't seem to get that readers want to know about her, and thus she's written a book about everyone but herself. That's problematic for readers like me who couldn't give a rip what it was like working with Clark Gable, partying with Gary Cooper, hosting Greta Garbo, entertaining Noël Coward, meeting Helen Keller, summering with Wallis Simpson and Prince Edward, etc. etc. etc. When Palmer isn't discussing her famous friends, she's entirely fixated on the career of her husband, Rex Harrison, while only permitting herself to reprint one or two of her own positive reviews.
There are scant seconds of interesting moments -- referring to herself as a "fat" young woman when she couldn't have been more than 135 pounds; casually mentioning binge eating and swallowing handfuls of laxatives; revealing tidbits about the hot Latin lover she took after discovering her husband was boning a costar half his age; coming to terms with being a Jew returning to Germany 20 years after World War II -- but they are too few and far between.
And what a disappointment.
I kept waiting for the part where she'd tell us what the hell she was doing in a 1958 West German movie about lesbians. What was it like to make a movie that was 50 years ahead of its time? Was there critical or public backlash? What made her agree to do the film in the first place? But alas, we only learn that her costar gave her flowers on the first day of shooting.
Well. Okay, maybe she'll tell us what sparked her interest in doing The House that Screamed, another film with strong homosexual overtones and themes of torture, mental abuse, and incest. What was Lilli doing making a film like that...in good ol' Catholic Spain...in 1969? What brought on the desire? And what happened next?
Again, we get nothing.
Okay, so what was it like making The Counterfeit Traitor? Did Willaim Holden behave himself, or was he slipping the tongue on bad takes and falling down drunk between scenes? What was it like to play a woman whose grim fate so easily could have been her own?
>>Cue to crickets chirping<<
But Lilli, surely there must be something you're willing to give up to your readers? Did you really like doing all of those whitewashed American films, or were you into the darker and more complex things you were filming in Europe? Which male costar was the best kisser? What were you really feeling when you found out Rex Harrison was fucking Kay Kendall?
Really, Lilli. Who are you?
Well, that's one question you should never have to ask at the end of a memoir.
Lilli Palmer was an amazing actress, a gifted painter, and she had one of the most captivating faces I've ever seen. But we can't all be perfect.
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is perfect for a specific group of people: job-seekers.
If you're currently looking for work, pi...moreThe Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon is perfect for a specific group of people: job-seekers.
If you're currently looking for work, pick up a copy of this book, as it does convey a very important message. That is, never work at Amazon. And no, that message is not just for prospective employees who are thinking of braving the Jungle-esque conditions of the distribution centers. The message is for anyone thinking of joining any part of the company: never work at Amazon.
If you're not from the Pacific Northwest and haven't heard the stories from former employees of the biggest churn 'em and burn 'em since Brown's slaughterhouse (complete with 16-hour stints at the office and 108 social media posts in 20 days), The Everything Store should offer up more than a few hints about daily life at the company: a "breakneck pace of ...work," where "meetings [are called] over the weekends," and employees are expected to "work smart, hard, and long." UGH. And don't expect to inquire about a better work-life balance; someone already asked about that at a sales meeting, and Bezos responded that "if you can't excel and put everything into it, Amazon might not be the place for you."
Heh. I guess it's not the place for people who have lives in general. Moving on.
Then there's Bezos himself (who I used to liken to Steve Jobs, but smarter), the guy who reinvented the way we read and continues to drive a Civic despite having more money than God. Perhaps I harbored a secret fantasy or two about seducing him for an Amazon log-in, but... never mind. The book makes him out to be an evil genius type, and really, that's probably not too far off the mark. Christ, if he gained a few pounds and carried a cat, he'd look like Dr. Evil, too.
What's with Bezos, anyway? He owns Google and Amazon stock, so he can't be about the money. The book basically explains that Bezos, like most hyper-successful entrepreneurs, is one of those powerful types that loves working and only cares about winning. Those quoted in the book describe him as "impetuous and controlling" and "deranged," with "ice water run[nig] through his veins." Let's not forget that he has a history of "lashing out at executives who failed to meet his improbably high standards." Wow. Sounds like a blissful place to spend 8+ hours a day, especially with pressure like that coming from the top down.
Again, if you're job-searching, this is a great book to read for learning just why you should never work at Amazon. Then again, you don't need the book for that: just read the reviews on Glassdoor by former employees. Better yet, ask around Seattle a little: you'll learn that the average Amazon employee turnover is 6-9 months, and you'll hear tales about people who worked so much and had so little free time that the only way to get personal items was to order them from Amazon.
But I digress. For those of us not looking for work, what about the book? My guess is if you have a day job filled with meetings, sales reports, executives, and the latest from Wall Street, the last thing you want to unwind with after a hard day's work is a book about meetings, sales reports, executives, and the latest from Wall Street.
Decent read, but I just couldn't handle it.
Meh -- whatever.
***I do wonder how long my review will last on Goodreads now that Amazon owns the site. In my defense, I'd like to state that I downloaded my copy of the book from Amazon, I've followed the new rules regarding book reviews, and I'm still totally open to seducing Bezos in exchange for an Amazon log-in. Love ya, Jeff!***(less)
James Lasdun's memoir is his account of being cyber-harassed by "Nasreen," a former student in one of his creative writing classes. This book is sheer...moreJames Lasdun's memoir is his account of being cyber-harassed by "Nasreen," a former student in one of his creative writing classes. This book is sheer art, written by one of the best writers I've ever encountered. Too bad it's complete bullshit.
Here's the deal.
Lasdun explains that "Nasreen" contacts him out of the blue two years after she graduated. Fine. They begin a cordial enough email relationship that turns somewhat flirtatious. Lasdun then reminds Nasreen that he is happily married (he will reaffirm this contradiction in terms several times for his readers as well, just enough to make us want to call bullshit on the spot). The two continue the correspondence until, for some inexplicable reason, Nasreen starts flooding Lasdun's inbox with hateful, antisemitic, threatening, conspiracy-oriented and otherwise batshit crazy emails. Lasdun's agent and employers also receive these lovely emails...for years.
For no other reason than the fact that Nasreen is just unstable, she also begins smearing Lasdun on Facebook, in comment threads under book reviews, and even on our fair Goodreads.
The basic flaw, of course, is that Lasdun's account of these events makes about as much sense as Fatal Attraction would if the fuck scene was cut out. In short? Middle-aged men who are established, have powerful connections, and are in a position of power over young women don't simply "fall victim" to anything. The innocent older man and the crazed-for-no-good-reason younger woman? Suuuure.
Coming to the conclusion that Lasdun is lying about the true nature of his relationship with Nasreen--and his role in unleashing the madness--doesn't require close reading or literary expertise. Everyone from The New Yorker to Goodreads reviewers has pointed out that Lasdun's "pure innocence" is either a lack of self-awareness or a complete lie.
While I'm likely one of the only readers who adored Lasdun's ramblings about things unrelated to Nasreen--his cross country train trip, his reflections on D.H. Lawrence, his beautiful retelling of Sir Gawain--and happily ignored his pretentiousness, it's that nagging truth of what really happened in his relationship with Nasreen that drove me to the edge. Funny, isn't it? How people want to know the truth? That the truth cannot even be disguised with Lasdun's beautiful writing?
These are the truths that I've managed to figure out with a little Google stalking of my own:
--Lasdun gives a few lines to note that Nasreen is pretty. What he should have told readers is that the girl is goddess beautiful. Find her picture online (it's not that difficult) and you'll be gasping at her presence: a cross between Shakira and a Persian princess. Seeing how beautiful she is suddenly makes Lasdun's "we were just friends" claim seem like..well, horseshit, really.
--All of the comments, except for those Nasreen left on Goodreads (which also happen to be in Lasdun's book),have been wiped clean from Google. A few can be found in Google cache.
--Try talking to Nasreen, and you'll quickly discover that the woman once dead-set on destroying Lasdun's reputation now refuses to speak. In fact, she'll shut down any conversation about Lasdun within seconds. My general impression? The woman is scared shitless to open her mouth about Lasdun. How...odd? Nah, more like how revealing.
The purpose of this book is to scrub Lasdun's online reputation clean--while he makes a buck off it, of course.
I'm guessing the real story went something like this.
1. Lasdun has an inappropriate relationship with a hot young student. Whether it was sex or simply leading her on (I'm guessing he promised her an array of things, from getting his agent to sell her book to letting her have his apartment), Lasdun was toying with Nasreen. Too bad he didn't know she was going to snap.
2. Lasdun's wife busts him. He swears it will never happen again, makes good on his promise, and stops responding to Nasreen's emails.
3. When she doesn't hear again from Lasdun, Nasreen realizes she's been burned. Time for the crazy to come out. Antisemitism, hate mail, cyber-bullying, and harassment ensue. Lasdun doesn't like that Nasreen is accusing him of rape and plagiarism, and he really hates that Goodreads won't remove comments in which she says she doesn't like Lasdun or his books. (Damn that Goodreads! Why won't it censor comments that piss off authors?? Amazon does it! No fair!!)
4. Lasdun gets sick of the harassment and considers his options. He realizes that Reputation.com is expensive and could likely never keep up with Nasreen's prolific internet posts.
5. Lasdun decides to call an attorney. His lawyers contact Nasreen and offer a pretty sweet proposal: Lasdun will write a book all about you, and you'll even get a cut of the royalties. Sign here agreeing to allow Lasdun to paint whatever picture he wants. Sign here agreeing to wipe the internet clean of any remaining comments about him. Sign here to agree to shut the fuck up, now and forever, about anything Lasdun-related, or we will fry you.
5. Nasreen signs. Lasdun writes the book. His reputation is clean. Lasdun is still "happily married" and writing for the New Yorker.
The slimy nature of this whole thing has the double effect of making Nasreen's conspiracy claims suddenly seem not so far-fetched while making Lasdun seem like a shady liar. A genius writer, a master of the written word, but a big, huge, shady, sketchy liar.
So, it's hard to rate this one. I loved it and couldn't put it down. My God, what a writer. But at the same time, I don't like being lied to by writers unless I specifically set out to buy fiction.
Automatic one star for trying to bullshit me without my permission.
And good luck to Nasreen. I hope she makes a fortune from this deal.(less)
I have nothing to say about this book other than it was useless.
It was sort of like being stuck in the waiting room at a doctor's office where the on...moreI have nothing to say about this book other than it was useless.
It was sort of like being stuck in the waiting room at a doctor's office where the only magazine available is Cosmo Teen: you get a little horrified about the lives "these kids today" as you turn the pages, but in the end, you don't give a shit because you've got more important things to deal with than the asinine problems of teenagers.
Sucked, and unworthy of my usual author and book destroying rants. (less)
**spoiler alert** REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. (And FYI: Holy shit. I actually feel mean writing this). Anyway, let's get on with it.
This book motivated...more**spoiler alert** REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. (And FYI: Holy shit. I actually feel mean writing this). Anyway, let's get on with it.
This book motivated me to create a new shelf called ZZZZzzzZZZZzz.
So, a small commuter plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness in 1984. The four survivors spend a frigid night on a mountaintop while awaiting rescue. The daughter of one of the survivors goes on to write a book about the entire ordeal.
You bored yet? Don't worry, you will be.
I can see why Carol Shaben finds this topic more fascinating than the rest of us do. After all, her father was one of the survivors. But let's cut away the fluff and get to the bare bones of this memoir.
Our four survivors are a politician, a pilot, a cop, and a criminal with a drinking problem. Know what happens after they're rescued?
The politician leaves office and becomes a political activist instead.
The pilot doesn't get hired at any airlines because of the little commuter jet snafu on his record, but he eventually finds work as a pilot again.
The cop leaves the police force and travels the world. Then he returns to Canada and becomes a cop again.
The criminal is pardoned, enjoys a brief period of sobriety, falls off the wagon, goes broke, and dies.
All that really happened in this book was that four guys had their lives briefly interrupted by a puddle-jumper crash and a cold night on a Canadian mountaintop.
I suppose Shaben could have gotten away with it if she were a better writer, but I just couldn't stand it. Shaben writes a lot like one of my C students in English 101: her repetition got to me (using the word "moan" two or three times per page to describe the aftermath of the crash), and passages like "slugs the size of bananas" (were they banana slugs, perhaps?) and "rakish good looks that wouldn’t seem out of place on the set of a Western movie" mean nothing to me.
This whole book begs for a good rewrite, or at least an editor who knows how to breathe a little life into bland and boring prose.
All of this when I could have been reading (and mocking) Pretty Little Liars or the new Dan Brown book. Ah well. C'est la vie.
With Three Cups of Tea, I had to stop and start over three different times in order to convince myself that it was a...moreSee if you notice a pattern here.
With Three Cups of Tea, I had to stop and start over three different times in order to convince myself that it was a true story. Something about Greg Mortenson descending from a mountain like some biblical figure to a group of adoring villagers just didn't ring true for me. I even found myself thinking of how easy it would be for Mortenson to pocket the cash he was getting to build schools, but brushed aside my own suspicions, thinking that no one would do such a thing. I should have listened to myself. Instead, I was eventually won over by the beautiful writing and I bought in, hook line and sinker. This was of my favorites for years. Oops.
Princess was an equally gripping read, and totally un-put-downable. Yet a third of the way through, my bullshit detector went off. I tossed the book in the trash because I don't appreciate being sold fiction passed off as non-fiction by some white chick from Georgia with a save-the-poor-brown-women-of-the-Middle-East complex because the publishers would rather get rich from the author's book sales instead of exposing her for a lying sack of crap. For someone, anyone, to expose the author, an actual American would have to speak Arabic (ha!), travel to Saudi Arabia, and start asking the royal family some questions. Yeah, that'll happen. Just keep rolling in the cash, guys. Ugh. Whatever.
Good ol' Ingrid Betancourt wrote an enthralling, beautiful, and touching book that was impossible to put down. Even in this one, a little close reading reveals the author to be full of it at times: there are several accounts of other captives that contradict Betancourt's memoir, her writing reads like fiction, and everything she swears by are events that are impossible to verify. At least with Ingrid, we can blame extreme trauma for her half-truths. Hell, we can even forgive her because she's a politician: we expect her to lie.
1. So well-written that it's impossible to put down -- Check 2. Written about a far away and inaccessible place -- Check 3. Because said place is so far away and inaccessible, the story is nearly impossible to verify -- Check 4. READS A LOT LIKE FICTION -- CHECK CHECK CHECK
Know why fake memoirs are so good? Because they're fucking fiction, that's why. Like all of the other too-good-to-be-true "memoirs" or "journalism" books, Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai is just a bunch of shit the author made up. Read the first ten pages. You'll see what I'm talking about.
There's a general rule for memoirs. In order to write one you have to be famous, have lived in close proximity to someone famous, or have survived som...moreThere's a general rule for memoirs. In order to write one you have to be famous, have lived in close proximity to someone famous, or have survived something so unbelievable that it's better than fiction (as in, you can't make this shit up). If you're not famous and haven't exactly lived through, say, this or this, then really, you have no authority.
This lack of authority is precisely the problem with Domenica Ruta's memoir. She comes from no place of authority to even be writing a memoir: she's barely over 30, she's not famous, she's not a survivor of anything 3 out of 4 people haven't dealt with, and her "recovery" happened so recently it could have been yesterday. This can't even qualify as one of those memoirs about surviving childhood adversity or rising above the ashes of despair because, shit, the girl has barely been sober long enough for me to take her seriously. And having no authority means your readers are left wondering what the hell the point of the story is.
In essence, this is a lot of bitching combined with way-too-many-pages of soul-searching that goes from tedious to agonizing.
But that's the thing. Like me, like my friends, like millions of others, Domenica is just another person who had some sucky things happen to her. I'm shocked by how similar she is to my girlfriends from college: Italian-American girls with thick Bahhhstin accents who came from blue-collar families in Peabody and Danvers, who survived traumatic childhoods and were the first of their lot to attend college. And what would those girls say about Ruta's story? Something akin to "You gadda bad ma'? You had it haaahhhd? Me too. So fackin' whaaaaat?" (My sentiments exactly).
The only difference between Ruta and the rest of us? Domenica Ruta broods. And wallows. And doesn't shut ... the fuck ... up. She doesn't seem to get the fact that having bad shit happen to you doesn't make you special, it just makes you like the rest of us. And that's boring.
Two stars for the couple of well-written sections, but, overall...
With Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, something unprecedented has happened in the publishing industry:...more With Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, something unprecedented has happened in the publishing industry: they published a book by (wait for it!) a good writer. >>gasp<< I know. I'm as shocked as you are, really.
While Heads in Beds is being marketed as Kitchen Confidential with a hotel slant, there's a marked difference between the two books: Anthony Bourdain is a cocky chef who also happens to know how to open a Word Doc on a PC, and thus gets his half-decent memoirs published.
Jacob Tomsky, on the other hand? Goddamn, this kid can write.
Don't believe me? Have a look for yourself.
When describing his asshole manager, Tomsky writes that when his supervisor spoke, "it sounded as if his tongue were too swollen for his mouth, the words wet like a flopping fish." (Pen mightier than the sword and all that).
And if you can find me a passage anywhere that more perfectly describes the ambivalence of living in New York City, I'll buy you a Coke: "I couldn't help but think back to New Orleans. Hadn't I been happier there? I was a nicer person there, right? How come I'd even stayed this long in New York? I might have already left the city, but in a way New York put a hex on me. The gravity is so strong here, that center-of-the -world feeling, it made leaving the city unfathomable." I feel you, bro.
And then there is his description of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, which is nothing short of poetry. "I sat down ...watching the evening sun bleed from the streets, the city shifting into night, when it truly became New Orleans: the music, the constant festival, the smell of late evening dinners pouring out, layering the beer-soaked streets, prostitutes, clubs with DJs, rowdy gay bars, dirty strip clubs, the insane out for a walk, college students vomiting in trash cans, daiquiri bars lit up like supermarkets, washing-machine-sized mixers built into the walls...lone trumpet players, grown women crying, clawing at men in suits, portrait painters ... jazz music pressing up against rock and roll cover bands, murderers, scam artists, hippies selling anything, magic shows and people on unicycles, flying cockroaches the size of pocket rockets, men in drag ... the affluent, the beggars, the forgotten, and the soft spring air pregnant with every scent created by such a town." Whoa.
Hey Norton people, are you reading? Anthologize this shit already.
And don't worry. Despite the good writing and many references to classical philosophy and literature (and those references are correct, by the way, which in itself is surprising given that publishers crank out any old crap without bothering to check Cliff's Notes for accuracy), the book is hilarious (think of me when you get to the section about Room 212) and is bound to inspire a maniacal laugh or two.
The hotel info? Just an added bonus. All of Tomsky's tactics are likely to score you upgrades and free alcohol the next time you stay in a hotel. Sweet!
Hmmm, let's see.... Exceptionally good writing, humorous, and useful. Know what I call that? Un-put-down-able.
I bought this on impulse (damn Kindle)because the title was on some Amazon "Best Non-Fiction of 2012" list that came in my email. Best of 2012? Heh.
P...moreI bought this on impulse (damn Kindle)because the title was on some Amazon "Best Non-Fiction of 2012" list that came in my email. Best of 2012? Heh.
People Who Eat Darkness is the story of a Tokyo murder that happened in 2000, sort of like In Cold Blood meets Murakami. The only problem? People Who Eat Darkness has none of the Murakami and an excess of Capote.
What I'm saying is, all of these true-crime novels, from In Cold Blood to Helter Skelter to People Who Eat Darkness, are boring as hell. The most interesting parts of the story are always the suspenseful moments of the doomed characters' last hours of life. After the crime is committed? Then it's all trials, denials, and convictions. YAWN.
This book was like trying to read an episode of Dateline, except there was no eerie background music, no panning to a guy in a prison jumpsuit insisting he's innocent, and no drunken Diane Sawyer to lighten up the mood.
And why would you read this endless, rambling, researched-to-the-point-of-exhaustion book when you can just watch the entire story on Dateline on YouTube and be done with it in an hour?
**Full (embarrassing) disclosure: I watched Guiding Light from the time I was 12 to about 14. Somehow, despite only having watched sporadically after...more**Full (embarrassing) disclosure: I watched Guiding Light from the time I was 12 to about 14. Somehow, despite only having watched sporadically after that, I still know way too much about the show. I never followed Kim Zimmer's character that much, and only ended up reading this thing because it came up in a work discussion and I got curious.**
Disclaimer over. Let's start.
The basic deal is that Kim Zimmer played the wildly popular Reva Shayne on Guiding Light for almost as many years as I've been breathing. In the few episodes I did manage to catch Zimmer, her character was a loudmouth sceeching skwak who tossed herself in fountains (no shit), cried a lot, and was always falling prey to some sort of histrionic fit.
That's what makes you a daytime superstar in America. Not too shocking, I guess.
The authorial voice that Zimmer uses in this book is just as over the top and obnoxious as that of Reva Shayne. It's a lot like reading a long high school yearbook entry (written by one of those I-think-I'm-more-popular-than-I-am classmates whose bubbly writing takes up an entire page) or one of Zimmer's Emmy speeches: extended thank-yous, a lot of not funny TMI tidbits, and irritating one-liners.
The thing is, though I was more than ready to rip Zimmer a new one, I can't do it. The actress -- who I always thought looked like an overweight, alcoholic, over-tanned smoker -- eventually ditches the annoying Reva voice and becomes candid about her weight gain, quitting smoking, and her alcohol abuse. She even dishes some delightful behind the scenes gossip about Guiding Light, the TV show that went from being an American institution to un-watchable trash that was only on at the nail salon.
So, I can't hate Kim Zimmer or her book.
Does that mean you should read it? Absolutely not. Much like the daytime television that made Zimmer famous, this book is a complete waste of time.
I first encountered Dominique Moceanu the same way everyone else did: on TV when she was a bright-eyed 14 year-old at the 1996 Atlanta Games. I still...moreI first encountered Dominique Moceanu the same way everyone else did: on TV when she was a bright-eyed 14 year-old at the 1996 Atlanta Games. I still remember the little tumbler with an eerie resemblance to Nadia, talking all about how in this moment her life was "absolutely perfect." That struck me so much that now, 16 years later, I still remember my first thoughts at hearing those words. I thought, "Well, that kid's either naive or lying." After reading this memoir, I suspect it was -- and still is -- a combination of both.
This book reads like a blog, and that's probably because all of the information available here can be found on Dominique Moceanu's Wikipedia page. That's right. Her accusations of abuse at the hands of her father an the Karoyli's, the spat with Kim Zmeskal (don't worry, Dommi, you win, Kim Zmeskal sucks!), the eating issues, the drugs, the sister given up for adoption that Dominique didn't know existed until 4 years ago: it's already up on the Internet, and it takes about ten minutes to read. This book expands on none of it and just rehashes it all at a Sports Illustrated level of literacy.
The only thing that did strike me as somewhat fascinating was the fact that by the end of the book, Dominique is all growed up and claiming to have a life of near perfection. Even the title of the book, "Off Balance" implies that her hardships are in the past and that her present life is balanced. How familiar. How like the 1996 Games when everything was "perfect." How naive.
I suspect that we'll be hearing from Dominique Moceanu again in several years, perhaps in another memoir, and hopefully with juicer details about what she was covering up this time around. My prediction? It'll have something to do with the 20 or so times in this book that she felt the need to highlight in (embarrassingly excessive detail) the "stunning" and "absolute" and "perfect" physical beauty of every female mentor she encounters. *Interesting.*
Is it bad that I'm waiting with baited breath for Marcus Samuelsson to fly just a little too close to the sun? You can bet I'll be there to kick him w...moreIs it bad that I'm waiting with baited breath for Marcus Samuelsson to fly just a little too close to the sun? You can bet I'll be there to kick him when he comes crashing down.
You see, this is not a memoir. It's the story of one man's unwavering ambition. And it's really just a cog in the massive Marcus Samuelsson self-promotion machine. It's a small workhorse that gives just a little more publicity to the guy who has four restaurants, catered for the Obamas at the White House, and got himself gigs on the Food Network and Bravo.
But the thing is, I don't even care about the memoir being a self-serving gig to promote his many businesses and his agenda. That's fine. That's business. That's the state of American publishing. What bothers me here is Marcus Samuelsson's heaping sack of steaming crap, bound up, disguised as a story, and packaged nicely by a decently talented ghost writer. The entire thing is a healthy entree of bullshit with a side of crème fraîche.
While I do appreciate the fact that Samuelsson had to endure great hardships because of the color of his skin (and I take particular glee in the fact that he called out Gordon Ramsay for being a negative, loudmouth, asshole racist), I can't stand the fact that I'm supposed to ignore the pain he inflicted on others in pursuit of his dreams of becoming a chef.
Some examples? Samuelsson missed his father's funeral because our fair chef's visa paperwork prevented him from traveling. Well. It happens, and the dead are exceedingly understanding about these things. Let's try again. Oh, yes, he broke up with a girl he'd been dating for years to follow his dreams of working in a Swiss restaurant and simply can't fathom why she's upset. He's even more perturbed that she takes a job in Switzerland with him, so to cope with his annoyance, he fucks a different girl in Austria and knocks her up; that relationship produced a daughter for whom Samuelsson paid child support but refused to meet until she was fourteen because he was too busy making his career in New York and marrying a model. (Oh, great. Just what the world needs: another little girl with daddy issues. We all know what happens with those.)
(Good thing Samuelsson made up for lost time with his kid by flying her to New York to meet Kanye West at a party. Jesus. Fucking. Christ).
You know, ambition is fine. Ambition is what makes dirtbags like Marcus Samuelsson famous while people like me write pissed off reviews on goodreads. It's the fact that Samuelsson treats the people that are supposed to be important -- his daughter, his father, women, etc. -- like crap, but then praises himself for sending monthly financial support to his family of origin in Ethiopia (that gave him up for adoption when he was a baby), or talks about how much he loves his super-wealthy supermodel wife. Funny how the only woman he respects is one who's rich and gorgeous, and the only family he takes care of is the one that sounds great in New York Times articles. UGH.
When he wasn't trying to disguise his dickheadedness with faux acts of humanity, it was all food, food, food, food, food, FOOD, FOOD, FOOD, FOOD and ... yeah, I couldn't take it.
So, Marcus Samuelsson, do your thing. Marry the model, run the chic four-star New York City restaurants. Pop up on every TV show on Bravo and the Food Network. Do your little promo thing with Illy. Rake in even more millions. Just keep flying higher, my friend...that's right, higher, right towards that warm glowing orb, just keep flying ... When you hit the ground with a thud, I'll be here waiting. With a pair of boots on....with steel-pointed toes.
Oh, and Marcus? You forgot to mention your daughter in the acknowledgments section. *shocker*
"I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan. I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan. I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great....moreAnd now a summary of this book.
"I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan. I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan. I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan. I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan. I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan. I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan. I'm Scott Jurek. I am so great. I'm vegan."
Look. I like Scott Jurek. We all do. He's a great runner and he just seems like a really nice guy. But you'll need the willpower of an ultra marathoner to get through this one...and getting the to last page will probably feel like crossing the finish line in a 100-mile ultra, too.
Here's the thing. I don't really care about a book that's nothing more than an ongoing list of Jurek's trail-running triumphs, broken up by the occasionally interesting vegan recipe. And while I do buy into Jurek's plant-based diet thing, it's really not going to stand between me and my weekly cheeseburger. And while Jerker never does get too douchebaggy about his diet, he does get irritating. I mean, his whole claim that eating cows and chickens is bad because the animals are injected with hormones and antibiotics? Well, dude, you're probably right, but let's not forget that your prized vegetables are doused in pesticides ... unless they're organic, in which case they're fertilized with feces. *Yummay*.
And isn't it just such Western snobbery to refuse food and get all crampy about your diet? I mean, you don't see Kenyan running champion Samuel Wanjiru following a special diet. Oh wait, that's right, he got wasted and fell from a balcony to his death, so he actually doesn't give a fuck about his diet at all. Never mind. The point is, shut the fuck up, eat, and enjoy life.
The few parts where the book momentarily borders on interesting are too few and far between. Example? His wife finally up and leaves him (perhaps because our fair Jurek was too busy training, racing, and winning) because she was in love with another man. Now, any non-moron knows who the guy is, but not only does Jurek frustratingly refuse to dish out the dirt, he doesn't even give us an inkling of emotion. Come on, Scottie! Call her a skank! Call her a cheating hooker and tell us how you went out and banged her best friend for revenge! Give us something we can USE for Chrissakes! But alas, no, it's only depression and more running.
Something like a narrative arc follows when Jurek talks about losing his mother and falling out with his best friend, but it's always the running, the running, the running. See, instead of telling us how he feels, we just learn that Jurek's bad mood leads him to lose races that he should have won. The moral of the story? Jurek comes to understand that winning isn't everything. Sigh. Fuck me.
Unlike my other reviews where I rip the book to shreds and take the author down with me, I actually *like* this author and wanted to like this book. It didn't happen. But I don't want my money back. Hey, That's a first.
Sucked. But Scott Jurek doesn't suck. Just hire a ghost writer next time, buddy. (less)
You know those books that are a complete chore to read? The ones you'll do anything -- playing Words with Friends, cleaning the house, scrubbing toile...moreYou know those books that are a complete chore to read? The ones you'll do anything -- playing Words with Friends, cleaning the house, scrubbing toilets -- to avoid reading? Then a few weeks go by and you've gotten dumber, because in doing your damnedest to avoid reading said book, menial tasks have turned your brain to mush?
Gone Girl has gone to my "sucked" shelf.
Look. If I want to hear about bored, unhappily married people, I'll talk to my married friends or delve into something by a capable writer. If I want horror and suspense, I'll drop all pretenses and hit up the master.
I can't deal with a slow-moving plot about a neurotic suburban housewife and her (justifiably) distant husband. I can't deal with lines like "She blew more smoke toward me, a lazy game of cancer catch," or "When I think of my wife, I always think of her head....It was what the Victorians would call a finely-shaped head." (Hey, Gillian, next time you write from a male point of view, try to remember that guys notice T&A and not the shape of a woman's head. GAHHHHHD!)
Then there's the issue with the character named Margo, or Go for short. What a pain in the ass when sentences start with her name. It seems like a verb, then you go on to realize that it's the chick with the annoying name. i.e., "Go walked across the bar," "Go loves to read," "Go was now pantomiming dick-slapping my wife." Right.