This book should be required reading for high school and college students. I'd strongly encourage parents to read it as well.
This is the most importanThis book should be required reading for high school and college students. I'd strongly encourage parents to read it as well.
This is the most important book Krakauer has ever written, and I think it's one of the most important books of this century. Krakauer holds the mirror up to a generation of narcissists, a broken legal system, and a negligent society with a disturbing culture that values perpetrators over victims.
Since I consider Chris McDougall (like Laura Hillenbrand and Jon Krakauer) to be one of the few American writers actually worth a damn, I'm going to gSince I consider Chris McDougall (like Laura Hillenbrand and Jon Krakauer) to be one of the few American writers actually worth a damn, I'm going to give him a free pass on Goodreads. I won't rip his new book apart, although the temptation is there.
McDougall's first book, Born to Run, had a linear and epic narrative reminiscent of the Odyssey, a rich cast of real life "characters" that the author followed throughout, and a wild central theme that was legitimized by academic studies, evolutionary scientists, and the author's personal experiences.
Natural Born Heroes, however, reads like our author popped a bunch of speed, got over-excited about tons of different topics -- Nazis, the Paleo Diet, the human fascia, parkour (Jesus H. Christ), foraging in Prospect Park, knife-throwing (sigh), Greek mythology, Wing Chun, Brazilian jiu jitsu -- and couldn't shut up about any of them, but couldn't tie them together in any meaningful way, either.
For any book nerd who loved Born to Run as much as I did, a boring follow-up, a schizophrenic narrative, and a story with no real point amount to something a little like heartbreak.
I actually wondered if I was part of the problem. Maybe my own mind was too scattered to follow what McDougall was saying. Maybe it was my fault that the narrative felt like it jumped around more than a traceur on bath salts. I even popped a Ritalin (no shit) and tried to focus. But no dice. Whether you're stone cold sober or dialed in on Dexedrine, nothing will change the fact that this is a disjointed, disorienting, and altogether confusing book.
I suppose I could forgive the fact that the chapters had nothing to do with each other, but there was something depressing about seeing a brilliant writer get so sloppy:
"A few months after refusing to show me Paddy's escape route, he agreed to show me Paddy's escape route." (Did this guy change editors or something?)
"We like to think of ourselves as...lone wolves in a dog-eat-dog world, but guess what?: Dogs don't eat dogs." (Oh for the love of...nevermind).
Some of the final chapters, in which McDougall touches on the subject of running and the ideal fitness diet are where the author truly shines. A damn near tear-jerking ending that I never saw coming was also reminiscent of the Born to Run Chris McDougall. However, it's upsetting to see that his natural brilliance as a writer was reserved for a handful of pages towards the end of a long-ass book about a bunch of crap I could have Wikipedia'd on my own.
While a part of me is tempted to think Chris McDougall has lost his fucking mind, he reveals the real truth of the matter in the Acknowledgements section, where he writes, "I couldn't choose between two different book ideas."
I don't really have a lot to add to the discussion about this book. Clearly, it's an undisputed champion of both biography and storytelling.
I both envI don't really have a lot to add to the discussion about this book. Clearly, it's an undisputed champion of both biography and storytelling.
I both envied and adored the author's writing ability, and the more I read, the more convinced I became that Hillenbrand is the only writer worthy of telling Louis Zamperini's story. In a book that's exhaustingly researched and meticulously detailed, little flickers of literary greatness stand out on every page, from the sadistic prison guard who "had been whipping about camp like a severed power line," to a love interest whose beauty wields a wild power: "Louie wasn't the first guy to be felled by Cynthia. Dense forests of men had gone down at the sight of her."
Hillenbrand even manages weave terror with poetic beauty:
"A neat, sharp form, flat and shining, cut the surface and began tracing circles around the rafts. Another one joined them. The sharks had found them." (As if surviving a plane crash over South Pacific weren't freaky enough).
"As they passed the fortnight mark, they began to look grotesque. Their flesh had evaporated. Their cheeks, now bearded, had sunken into concavity. Their bodies were digesting themselves."
"He watched [the sock] flap in the current. Then, in a murky blur beyond it, he saw the huge, gaping mouth of a shark emerge out of the darkness and rush straight at his legs."
Honestly. Who bothers to write this well any more??
If I had to dig up one complaint about an otherwise perfect book, I'd say that I was left feeling a little "so what?" about the whole thing. In the end, it was a cool story, but it didn't offer much beyond that. It's simply a the tale of an amazing life -- we can't assume it's the story of a great human being because we never learn anything about Zamperini other than what he did and what happened to him. We don't ever learn anything personal about him, which is fine, but it never really humanizes him. Ah well, we can't all be perfect.
The snark in me thinks the last thing we sucky Gen Y-ers need is a reminder of the superiority of the Greatest Generation, and wonders how one can survive a plane crash, being adrift at sea for 6 weeks in shark infested waters, and a Japanese POW camp, only to fall prey to Billy Graham...
But whatever. Fuck my tiny complaints and disregard my snark.
This was a great book. Crazy story written by one of the most talented authors I've ever come across.
I really like Roald Dahl. Honestly, I do. Life wouldn't be the same without Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Witches.
I thought I remembered likiI really like Roald Dahl. Honestly, I do. Life wouldn't be the same without Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Witches.
I thought I remembered liking The BFG when my kindergarten teacher read it to my class, but as I was reading it to my son last week, I was suddenly having flashbacks of my teacher's random pauses, the frown on her face, and the irritated flipping of pages.
Or maybe it's not real at all, and I'm projecting my modern-day image of myself onto memories of myself as a 5 year-old.
But I'm rambling.
This book is hard to read aloud to your kid. The BFG's English is mangled beyond the point of comprehension, too many scenes are violent, and the story is boring.
Reading this was tiresome and I swear it'll turn kids stupid.
I would have liked this book a lot more had the author not annoyed the sh!t out of me.
Suki Kim is like one of those college girls who goes to study aI would have liked this book a lot more had the author not annoyed the sh!t out of me.
Suki Kim is like one of those college girls who goes to study abroad in some fascinating place, only to spend the semester pouting in her dorm room because she misses her boyfriend.
When Kim heads to North Korea to teach English with a missionary group at a Pyongyang university, she has the opportunity to observe the intricacies of both North Korean and fundamentalist Christian life -- two fascinating topics that should provide plenty of fodder for a decent memoir. Yet, the author fails us.
It's clear that Kim is trying to draw parallels between her love for a man, Christians' love for God, and North Koreans' love of their leader -- but it doesn't work. Anything about North Korea, Kim's experiences there, or the lives of Kim's students were completely overshadowed by the author's obsessive sense of longing for a guy we never get to know anything about. Kim spills a little bit on the non-existent sex lives (um, who cares?) of the unwed Christian faculty members at the university before brushing them aside and giving readers an overdose of her own life...and it's weird, distracting, and ever present throughout the book.
Within a nanosecond of meeting the all-male student body at the university in Pyongyang, Kim decides that she's "fall[en] in love" with all of her students. Later, for whatever reason, she'll have her all-male class write essays about "How to Successfully Get a Girl." She goes on to toss in some self-flattering dialogue spoken by others, such as: "Comrade Suki, I hear you and Comrade Katie are the most popular teachers, and the boys are just wild about you," and "When I see Comrade Kim Suki casting her feminine glace over her students in the cafeteria, I wonder if the students are all captivated by her feminine charm. They must lose sleep at night thinking about their teacher. They are virile young boys, after all."
Ok, we get it. Kim wants to get some, her students are all hot for teacher, and no one is getting any. It's frustrating. But do we need an entire book about it?
When she isn't being flattered by minders or flirting with students, Kim is usually shut away somewhere on campus, missing her "lover" (God, that word is so pretentious -- just say "boyfriend") back in Brooklyn, who seems content to ignore her. Kim writes much about this lover yet reveals almost nothing about him, not even why she's so enamored with him, and one begins to question if he exists at all...but then Kim writes some true gems that only longing can bring about: "A feeling of hopelessness saturated me and could not be washed away," and "In that world, I needed a lover...and that need drove me crazy some nights."
I got so overloaded with the talk of the absent lover that I began to question the title of the book itself: "Without you, there is no us" is a verse from a North Korean anthem, but I started to get the sense that Kim was directing it much more towards the Brooklynite who couldn't be bothered to return her emails.
But I digress. Real things do happen in the story. Kim and a Christian colleague get in a screaming fight over whether they can show a Harry Potter film to their 20 year-old students. Kim cries a lot. Kim gets bored and homesick a lot and insists that her life in Pyongyang is dull. Kim tells us some of the clever ESL lessons she comes up with. Kim develops a strange, maternal affection for students that aren't much younger than she is, and then she misses the lover some more.
I just couldn't take it. This was supposed to be a memoir about North Korea, not the weird relationships and situations that develop out of a 30-something's dry spell abroad.
This was like reading a movie. I was really into it until I noticed way too many connections with The Tommyknockers. Then my motivation died and it toThis was like reading a movie. I was really into it until I noticed way too many connections with The Tommyknockers. Then my motivation died and it took me 2 months to finish the last chapter. I can't even remember what it was about, but I know it made me jump at every little noise in the house while I was reading, so it must have been good. ...more
It amazes me in some ways how much I have in common with Linda Tirdao.
I, like Tirado, had a caring family and a relatively privileged upbringing. I,It amazes me in some ways how much I have in common with Linda Tirdao.
I, like Tirado, had a caring family and a relatively privileged upbringing. I, like Tirado, spent my 20s making taking low-paying jobs and making shitty financial choices while living an ideal existence in Europe. And as with Tirado, shit got real when I had a child.
But there, alas, our paths diverge. I returned to the USA and turned my writing into a side business while I went to graduate school. When shit hit the fan during my second year of grad school and I really was in poverty (not the chosen kind this time), I learned a valuable lesson: no one owes you a damn thing, so be grateful for the friends and communities that help you, and work your ass off to get out of it.
Linda Tirado, instead, kept working minimum wage jobs, found out she couldn't live off of that salary with kids in tow, and got all grumpy. She also figured out that working, parenting, and attending college is really hard.
Then she wrote (an untrue) stereotype-laden essay claiming to be in poverty, promoted it on Gawker, set up a GoFundMe and collected $80,000 from well-meaning but gullible readers who believed her story. Tirado then did some backpedaling, meandered, and somewhere in a rambling update on GoFundMe ($80,000 later, mind you) mentioned that she's not actually poor, had grandparents who had bought her a house, etc. etc. Perhaps she admitted to not being poor because more careful readers had already begun poking holes in her poverty story.
In any case, the original publishers of her essay stammered out something like a retraction, Tirado walked away with a book deal, took a trip to Vegas without her kids, got some new tattoos, wrote her book, and was somehow been dubbed "The woman who accidentally explained poverty to a nation." (Maya Angelou must be turning over in her grave).
And what does all of this have to do with the book? Let me put it this way. I've been Linda Tirado: spoiled, entitled, and aghast at just how much it sucks having to work for your money. But Linda? Your whole poverty kick? Don't bullshit a bullshitter.
Reading this book just created obnoxious argument between my brain and the words on the page. Every. Single. Thing. Is. Wrong. Well, wrong, or completely embellished.
The book doesn't have the meth-induced rambling quality of Tirado's internet essays, and for that, I'm grateful to whoever edited the damn thing. But can the boys at Putnam bother to hire a fact-checker, or give the job of spotting bullshit to a non-millennial? Please? Here are a few of my favorites:
--Tirado is outraged that contract work deprives people of a regular salary and benefits. (Are you telling me that nothing ... is...guaranteed?? >>gasp<<) Mockery aside, what is she even talking about? Contractors earn more than a salaried employee precisely because they have no benefits. And guess what? Contract work gets a lot of people in the door and into full-time, permanent positions with companies that wouldn't otherwise even have interviewed them.
--Tirado assumes that people who are salaried and have benefits are financially better off than those who work minimum wage and have bad or no benefits. In fact, Tirado goes on to discuss at length the humiliation of working your ass off while remaining poor. Linda. Dear. Don't ever assume anything about anyone else's financial state. Ever. There are people who work hard, have benefits, and make $80,000 a year who are in financial dire straits.
--Tirado bemoans the fact that she's been told contradictory things by her bosses (i.e.,"Use more coffee but save more coffee.") And she also doesn't like that companies make her recite lines to customers, which is essentially paying her to "pretend I'm not me and that I care about you." Sigh. Being given contradictory instructions by the boss? Being asked to act in a certain professional manner? Yeah. I guess I call that work. I guess I call that part of a job. Work sucks, for sure. Know what sucks more? Not having a job.
And when she's not making asinine assumptions that the world just has it so much better than she does, Tirado twists the truth in ways that made me wish I had a wood-burning fireplace. Examples?
--She supposedly knew a stripper who got fired for not having good enough breast implants. Really? That's funny, because until 2012 when dancers started suing, strippers were always independent contractors -- the stripper paid to work in the club every night. They don't get fired, for Chrissakes.
--She says college didn't make financial sense for her because it was so expensive. What does make financial sense, then? Not investing the time and money into working your way toward a degree and a better life, and thus remaining poor? Heh. When I was in grad school I knew at least 3 other single mothers pursuing their undergrad degrees...but nevermind, college doesn't make sense.
--Tirado says, "I don't smile. Someone found a picture of me smiling from back in 2006, before my front teeth went and a wisdom tooth cracked off." Fuuuuck me. This time last year, wasn't it a "car accident" that knocked out all of her teeth?
Yeah. This kind of arguing back and forth with a book, written by an author whose credibility is already less than zero? I couldn't take it.
I mean, why not write something useful? How about suggesting that we start teaching economics and money management to middle schoolers, and reiterating to the next generation that minimum wage cannot be their life plan? How about suggesting things that communities can do to help people get the skills to get off the minimum wage? Shockingly, Tirado gives us none of this. I can't say I'm surprised.
The book gets one star for being the physical proof that my fellow Gen Y-ers really are a generation of self-obsessed, lazy, entitled a$#%les who don't want to work -- and for proving that in the publishing world, you don't need talent...just a sentimental sob story and a few gullible readers.
I first came across Wafa Sultan the way most Americans did: In 2006, someone sent me a link to a YouTube video of Sultan participating in a debate onI first came across Wafa Sultan the way most Americans did: In 2006, someone sent me a link to a YouTube video of Sultan participating in a debate on Al-Jazeera. I thought she was courageous, well-spoken, and right -- I like any woman who debates men in authority and uses her superior intelligence to makes them look stupid. Then I stopped caring for a good 7 years or so.
I downloaded her book a few weeks ago because it seemed a lot better than reading the Daily Mail's wall-to-wall coverage of ISIS and Syria.
What can I say? I don't like Islam (and don't comment that I'm an Islamophobe, as I have 3 whole Muslim friends). I'm not into an ideology that hasn't reformed for 1400 years and, as Bill Maher said on Friday, is “the only religion that acts like the mafia, that will fucking kill you if you say the wrong thing, draw the wrong picture or write the wrong book.”
The recoil effect that Islam has with me, Bill Maher, and any rational human being is nothing compared to what Wafa Sultan feels about the religion. This chick hates Islam, and she should. She saw barbaric murders occur in the name of Allah; she had female patients whose beatings and rapes went unreported and hushed away; she had no rights or autonomy until she left Syria for the United States.
The only problem with this book is that Wafa Sultan is too good of a writer. She explains the Muslim mentality with sweeping, easy-to-understand sound bites that are alarmingly simple. She makes statements that are meant to encompass all Muslims, and she has the remarkable ability to get you to agree with her.
As much as I like Sultan and enjoyed her book, the lack of wiggle room she allows strikes me as dangerous. I may not like Islam. Wafa Sultan certainly doesn't. But I'm sure there are at least a few Muslims out there who don't hate Jews, who don't believe in some America-Zionist-kufar conspiracy, who don't think women need to wear a niqab, who don't think adulterers should be publicly executed, who don't agree that drawing a cartoon of Muhammad should land a person in jail, etc. etc.
There must be a handful of these people, right?
I mean...fundamentalists like Anjem Choudary who call for global jihad? Round them up and deport them. The little ISIS punks who like to play with knives and lop off the heads of journalists and aid workers? Hunt them down and kill them. People who plot terror attacks? Send them to Cuba. Then plant some leaders in the region who can start enforcing a secular education, bring the mentality of the religion to the 21st century, and take people's minds beyond the madrassa. (It all sounds so simple when I'm in charge, doesn't it?)
But for those who aren't fundamentalists, who are rational people who just want to follow their religion and do good for humanity? I wish Sultan had taken a few pages to focus on them as well.
Maybe she can drop that in her next book. Either way, I'm buying it. Debates aside, the woman can write, and I found the book to be educational and entertaining.
The chick has some serious gonads. I like it. ...more
After two years of waiting for Sarah Waters' new novel to come out, reading this actually made me want to cry a little. I don't know what to say. WhenAfter two years of waiting for Sarah Waters' new novel to come out, reading this actually made me want to cry a little. I don't know what to say. When a book this terrible is written by an author that we know is capable of so much more, it feels like a personal affront.
After a fantastic debut and decades of decent novels, what the hell went so wrong with The Paying Guests? How could our fair Sarah do this to us?
It's all pretty simple. The problem with this book is that Sarah Waters got famous. Seriously.
Think about it.
Waters is adored in the literary world, half of her books have been turned into BBC dramas, and she's got more awards up the wazoo than Teen Mom Farrah has glass dongs up the ... nevermind. My point is, Sarah Waters is powerful enough that no one questions her any more. The New York Times, FT, and the Guardian are going to laud her no matter what she writes -- making her clean up the crap isn't worth the trouble.
And judging from The Paying Guests, no editor dared email her to let her know she was repeating herself on every goddamn page, or to suggest she rewrite some of the suckier parts.
The result is a multitude of cringe-worthy passages:
"She seemed to have lost a layer of skin, to be kissing not simply with her lips but with her nerves, her muscles, her blood." (EW).
"They smiled at each other across the table, and some sort of shift occurred between them. There was a quickening, a livening – Frances could think of nothing to compare it with save some culinary process. It was like the white of an egg growing pearly in hot water, a milk sauce thickening in the pan." (Huh? How romantic).
"It was like being parched, and touching water, like being famished, and holding food." (Sigh. Goddammit).
I'm sure some junior editor making 20 grand a year at some London publishing house wasn't about to fire off an email to the great Sarah Waters saying,
Just got the feedback from the boys upstairs.
Please rework the above-mentioned passages, cut about 30 pages from the melodramatic self-induced abortion scene (it seems all you do is repeat the words "moan" and "pale" and "blood" for several pages), make it harder to see the stupid plot twist coming from 100 pages away, and narrow the last 250 pp. of legal drivel down to 75.
Also, can you go for something other than the 1920s English domestic novel? It's duller than deadly nightshade.
Finally, please give the two main characters personalities so that readers can tell them apart. Perhaps make them more lifelike--characters that readers can despise, root for, or at least care about--and less like words on the page.
Happy to receive your rewrites by Monday at 5. Cheers."
Yeah. I didn't think so.
Since the people working for her won't say anything, I will. Sarah, you're great when you try. So please try harder.
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 geniusThe 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. ...more
Why? Because this isn't a book about the making of "The African Queen."
It's a book about whatever relationshThis 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. ...more
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 orAt 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 haFor 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 thiAh, 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, piThe 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!***...more
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 sheerJames 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....more
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 onI 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. ...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**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.