"Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past fr "Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth." --Mary Schmich.
I'm trying, Mary. I really am.
Oh, screw it.
This was the most stressful book I've ever read. I haven't been thrown into such a fucking frenzy of hatred since The Book Thief, and as with The Book Thief, I'm astounded that audiences en masse are embracing such codswollop.
I'm baffled as to why this is a bestseller. My best guess is that Marie Kondo targeted the most materialistic generation in the history of humanity, and they've since passed the book on to their equally superficial, spiritually empty, and stuff-obsessed grandchildren, who have made the fucking thing go viral.
At this point, we should just accept the fact that when our fellow countrymen gobble up 4 million copies of a book, it's garbage.
Seriously. Stupid just hit a whole new level.
But before I go tearing the book and its semi-literate fans to pieces, let's be fair: I'm not the intended audience. Other than the fact that I'm an unduly harsh critic of everything I read (I like to call that using my brain, but whatever), I already live minimally: I live in one of the rainiest cities in the country, but I will never buy an umbrella; except for 4 absolute favorites, all of my books are in the Cloud; knick-knacks make make me want to smack someone, the mismatched mess of an "eclectic" decorating style nauseates me, and I never buy anything unless I need it or love it. My house is almost always immaculate, and I don't do clutter. Excess "stuff" stresses me out to no end.
As I read Kondo's book, I realized that I'm not the typical American drowning in an excess of useless crap. (Living in Europe and trading continents 4 times in your 20s can do that to a person). So why wasn't I nodding in agreement with her guide to decluttering?
You mean it's not obvious? Come on, people!
Good God. When Americans' capacity for critical thinking has reached the level of blindly adopting all things Marie Kondo/KonMari, we've got bigger problems than "too much stuff."
Look. There's no such thing as the "KonMari method for tidying up." Her ideas should only strike you as new if you've ignored the folding techniques of every retail store you've ever entered, or you've never poked through a Feng Shui catalog. Saying that you follow the "KonMari method for tidying up" is like saying you follow the "Harpo method for finding your spirit" or the "Martha Stewart Omnimedia method" of crafting Christmas ornaments out of pinecones and pipe cleaners.
There is no KonMari method, you idiots. This isn't some ancient Japanese art of decluttering put forth by one diminutive woman from Tokyo. Marie Kondo was manufactured by a Japanese publishing outlet, and KonMari isn't a method, it's a media company.
I'm not bothered by the woman-as-the-face-of-a-media-company thing. It's been done before. (Oprah and Martha Stewart, anyone?) What disgusts me about this book is the deception behind it. I don't dig Oprah, but at least she got people talking about uncomfortable topics like sexual assault and racism, among other things. And at least Martha Stewart was candid about her perfectionism and relentless focus on her business functioning as coping mechanisms during an ugly divorce. But Kondo? This chick is packaging her brand of crazy as the path to joy.
I mean, peddling your mental illness as the new normal? Damn, that's cold.
Look. If you're an American with an abundance of junk, you're normal. You're fine. Marie Kondo wants you to have a problem with your junk so she can make money. Dealing with her issues doesn't make her rich -- selling you her psychosis does.
Do you really believe Kondo found joy in decluttering when she says her cleaning obsession started at age 5, and was a "custom [she] maintained even after entering high school," as she "sat on the floor for hours sorting things"? If you're going to ignore the fact that Kondo chose cleaning over normal after-school activities--a job, calling boys, playing sports--it's easy to brush aside her mention of having a teenage breakdown because her room wasn't clean enough. (Um, that's not a happy kid). Path to joy indeed.
But we don't need to psychoanalyze the early years. Kondo admits that her passion for tidying "was motivated by a desire for recognition from [her] parents," and that she "had an unusually strong attachment to things" rather than people. (Hi, sad). But is a childless 20-something/former souvenir salesperson, fresh out of an unhappy childhood, really the one you want leading you down the supposed path to joy? Think about what this chick is saying:
"The purpose of a letter is fulfilled the moment it is received. By now, the person who wrote it has long forgotten what he or she wrote and even the letter's very existence." Jesus. That's a bleak outlook on life. But I guess Kondo is right. My grandma doesn't give a shit about the letters she wrote me--she's dead. Then again, I don't hold on to letters from grandma for her sake.
"Aim for perfection." Jesus CHRIST. The only thing I hate more than knick-knacks and the eclectic is a living space created with "perfection" in mind. "Perfect" living spaces are stressful. They're goddamned mausoleums void of character and humanity. There's a little genius in a (small) organized mess. A tad bit of clutter is humanizing. There can be beauty in a bit of chaos. Hey, Marie, here's an idea: get outside more. Perfection is a fleeting organic moment: a newborn baby, a sunset, the Fibonacci sequence in the florets of a flower. It's not some state you declutter your way into.
"Move all of your storage units into your closet. This is where I usually put steel racks, bookcases, and cupboards or shelves, which can also be used to store books." This. Right here. This is exactly why I found this book so goddamned irritating. Passages like this made my immaculate and clutter-free city apartment feel like it wasn't good enough. Take my bookcase. I hate bookcases. I view them as a way of storing junk, and in my 30-something years, I've only seen one bookcase done well. But I have a bookcase for my 6 year-old. (No goddamn way am I going to put his books on the Cloud, giving him another excuse to stare at a screen). I was never bothered by the bookcase until I read Kondo's book, but now I can't wait until we can throw the damn thing away. And moving it out of sight will magically make me hate it less? Yeah, no. This is my son's house, too. Sorry, Marie, I'm not going let your book make me miserable about a kid's bookcase. I'll go back to not noticing it. Thanks.
Never, ever tie up your stockings. Never, ever ball up your socks. God! Who the fuck cares about how they fold their socks? I'd love to scribble all over Kondo's walls just to see what she'd do.
"Transform your closet into your own private space, one that gives you the thrill of pleasure. Heh. An organized closet sparking a "thrill of pleasure"? I'd recommend another human being or a battery-powered...never mind, get your "thrill of pleasure" wherever, it's not my business.
"When you stand in front of a closet that has been reorganized...your heart will beat faster and the cells in your body buzz with energy." Isn't it weird that Kondo describes an organized closet with words generally associated with falling in love/physical intimacy? Well, that's...fucked up, but whatever. I had an altogether different experience. When I upgraded to a new apartment a few months ago, I organized my hall closet. Afterwards, I stood there wondering if I'd accomplished anything or just wasted a bunch of time. When my 6 year-old wandered up and, near tears said, "When you clean, we don't get to play," I went ahead and decided on the latter.
This is the routine I follow every day when I return home from work. First, I unlock the door and announce to my house, 'I'm home!' Picking up the pair of shoes I wore yesterday...I say, 'Thank you very much for you hard work,' and put them away...I put my jacket and dress on a hanger, say 'Good job!'...I put [my handbag] on the top shelf of the closet, saying 'You did well. Have a good rest.'" Um. She's talking to her stuff. What the f%$#?!?! And why are Americans so quick to dismiss Kondo's talking to inanimate objects as some cultural quirk? No one talks to their shit in Japan unless they're certifiably nuts.
"The best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is totake each item in one's hand and ask: 'Does this spark joy?'" LOL, the "wisdom" of people under 30. Anyone who has kids (or a general understanding of life) knows that this is an impossible task. I mean, give me a break! Going all slash and burn on your life, save for items that "spark joy?" I wonder what people who've lost everything in a fire would say about that? I'm sure people who survived major disasters would *totally* enlighten you about the *joy* sparked from their stuff. Obviously, if your mountain of junk makes you miserable, your stuff owns you. But if you Kondo-ize your house until you only have things that "bring you joy," your reduced pile of stuff still owns you. Face it. If you're looking for joy in the material, you don't need Marie Kondo--you need to reevaluate your life.
Okay, fine. Maybe I'm being unfair.
People are indeed affected by their environment, and decluttering can feel satisfying, even cleansing. But look who's telling you how to go about it: a chick whose childhood obsession with cleaning came from trying to please others, whose sole work experience includes selling junk at shrines, and whose descriptions of "joy" include rules, repetition, ritual, and talking to inanimate objects.
Yeah. They make medication for that.
At this point, I should pick up Marie Kondo's book and ask myself whether it sparks joy. Well, no, it actually sparks rage. To the trash with it, then!
A French journalist creates an online identity to talk to jihadists, but unwittingly attracts the attention of a crazed ISIS fighter? Sign me up! I'veA French journalist creates an online identity to talk to jihadists, but unwittingly attracts the attention of a crazed ISIS fighter? Sign me up! I've stalked those ISIS idiots on Twitter for more years than I care to admit, and non-fiction about crappy countries is totally my thing. This book should be right up my alley! Right?
In the Skin of a Jihadist is just an extended version of Anna Erelle's NY Times/Daily Mail/Guardian articles promoting her book. If you've read any of those--hell, even if you just skimmed a summary on Buzzfeed--voila!, you've got the entire story. You can skip the book, because in 240 pages, there's not one detail that Erelle hasn't already published online.
Well, that's irritating.
But In the Skin of a Jihadist has bigger problems than being a longform version of Erelle's old web articles. The real issue is that despite its intriguing premise, this book is boring. (I survived Critical Theory in grad school, so "boring" isn't a word I toss around lightly). It's so lifeless that it damn near rivals Waiting for Godot/Moby Dick/anything by Jane Austen or Alessandro Manzoni, etc. as the dullest sh!t in print.
A contemporary book so monotonous that it sparks flashbacks of the bad classics?
Yikes. And it gets worse.
I get that Erelle is a journalist who wants to be taken seriously. I also get that she wants her subject matter to be taken seriously. But when you invent a fake identity to pursue a story, there goes my ability to consider you a serious journalist. As for the story itself? Catfishing some waste-of-life pussy ISIS fighter? Meh. I think I saw that on MTV once.
With her dubious professional ethics, near-zero credibility as a journalist, and a flimsy story, Erelle had nothing to lose when she started writing this. She could have written anything. Why she didn't drop the journalism shtick and focus on breathing life into her corpse of a book is beyond me. But no, she stuck to the (not very exciting) facts and called it good.
Come on, Anna! Where's your creativity? I've got a couple of ideas to make your book less of a chore to read. See if you can work these in by the time the second edition rolls out:
Tell the real truth: You know what I mean. Spill it. Was the ISIS guy hot? Were you ever attracted to him? Were there any late night phone calls that your boyfriend didn't know about? Speaking of your boyfriend, he sounds hot. Can you tell us more about him, other than the fact that he sits in the corner brooding? Thx.
Embellish: As noted above, your professional integrity went out the window when you created a fake identity. You're no different than those of us who Twitter-stalk these assholes behind a fake avatar image, so we really only half believe you anyway. Well, run with it! Tell us some sweet little lies and liven up this party! Say you were toying with the idea of converting to Islam but a new-found love for Scientology stopped you. Say that you actually catfished 5 ISIS fighters, 2 of their wives, 1 of their slaves, and a few of their sheep. Describe your pet unicorn. Whatever. It doesn't matter. Just make something up! If it's interesting, we'll pretend we believe it.
Criticize someone, anyone, anything, for fuck's sake! Why be objective when you can engage readers with your opinions about the situation you created with your ISIS bachelor? There's already a fatwa against you, so why the fear of stirring the pot? Go ahead, tell us why you think Islam sucks -- we can handle it. Or tell us how ISIS fighters think they're tough shit, but compared to the hotties in the Légion Étrangère or the Japanese during the Rape of Nanking, they're really just a bunch of whiny little girls. Better yet, make fun of your terrorist beau for being a fucking moron. Come on, tell us how in the hell a 38 year-old was dumb enough to be fooled by your fake identity, and then mock the hell out of him! I mean, being catfished when you're old enough to remember Prodigy and AOL? HAHAHAH!! DUMBASS!! LOL! (See how easy it is, Anna?) Voice an opinion! Just do something! And make it count.
Add some personality. How about French-ifying the text a little? You know, call the ISIS fucker a tête à claques, drop a few meaningless Foucault and Sartre quotes, and remind us of the superiority of France as you blow smoke in our faces with disdain. (God I love French people). See? I like your book better already.
Revise the "purpose." Yeah, yeah, yeah, your selling point is that your fake identity gave you precious insight into how ISIS manages to lure young European women to Syria. But come on, that's about the lamest attempt of all to legitimize your book. Yes, it's shocking when seemingly normal girls disappear from their comfortable lives, only to pop up on Twitter in a niqab, married to a hairy stranger, and posing with Kalashnikovs in war-torn Raqqa. But "How does it happen?" Come on, really? Um. It's called brainwashing, and teenagers are the easiest targets. It's not complicated: teenagers are vulnerable, they long for a sense of purpose, they romanticize dumb things, and they make stupid decisions. And when their parents give them unfettered access to a device that connects them with the world... Well, gee, what could go wrong? When you're 15 and the hot ISIS fighter you met on Twitter tells you that you're "different" and "special," that means something. When that same stud tells you'll get to fire guns learn self-defense, be a sex slave get married in the lawless totally safe caliphate, and bring up the next generation of Muslims...that sounds rad. And when the hot stranger packages it all as a sacred mission that guarantees a spot in heaven? Holy sense of purpose, Batman! That's way cooler than sitting through 10th grade chemistry! Something tells me you already knew this, Anna.
Find better material. When it really comes down to it, I don't care about some dumbass jihadist in Iraq. Call me when a bomb falls on his head. Or not. I don't care. This whole war thing has been going on, ad nauseam, since the beginning of time, and there's absolutely nothing new or noteworthy about ISIS...well, other than their propensity for blowing themselves up in their quest for world domination, but you can't expect a Milennial terrorist to know that "No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You win by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." But even laughing at ISIS gets old. If you really want to get my attention, use your fake identity something interesting. Infiltrate a group of young French women planning to move to Syria, and give us the scoop on what hell they're thinking. Or, trick a local imam into dating you and tell us what happens. Better yet, see if you can become 2nd wife to that ass-clown Anjem Choudary and write a salacious tell-all. Or, if Anjem doesn't pan out, become wife #4 to some devout Muslim/secret polygamist living in Paris and let us know how it goes.
See what I'm getting at here?
Save the dry reporting for your articles. You're hardly a journalist in the book, so give us the goddamn goods or go home.
In 70 pages, Three Cups of Deceit managed to destroy one of my heroes--and I don't mean Greg Mortenson, the person the book means to demonize. InsteadIn 70 pages, Three Cups of Deceit managed to destroy one of my heroes--and I don't mean Greg Mortenson, the person the book means to demonize. Instead, it's author who has left me queasy with disgust.
We all know that it's nothing new for me to hate an author, but Three Cups of Deceit is different, because I've been an ardent Jon Krakauer fan since I was 17. When 20 years of admiration are undone in a 70-page ebook, it's is a weird place to be.
I bought this book last year because I love Krakauer's writing, not because I cared about the content. When Krakaeur appeared on 60 Minutes in 2011, accusing Greg Mortenson of 5 different types of fraud, I did what most probably did: I assumed Krakauer was right, but I didn't follow the scandal or Greg Mortenson's subsequent fall from grace.
Well, I care about the content now, and I don't think I'll pick up another Jon Krakauer book...ever.
What the hell happened in this book to cause me to turn on my longtime favorite author? To answer that, we have to look back on Krakauer's writing over the last several years.
After writing two of the greatest adventure stories of the 20th century, Krakaeur shifted dramatically. It started in 2003, when he swapped adventure writing for expose-style journalism. That shift in subject also marked a change in tone: his curiosity-driven prose morphed into rage-driven narratives. Yet Krakauer's anger fit the topics he was covering. Shock and outrage work well in Under the Banner of Heaven and Missoula. And though Krakauer's anger borders on crampy adolescent whining in Where Men Win Glory, his rage is understandable, perhaps even relatable.
But there's something unsettling about the depth of Krakauer's anger in Three Cups of Deceit. Turn to any page, and you'll find barely-contained fury. But instead of fitting with the text, that fury undermines Krakaeur's credibility: the book doesn't read like an investigation, but like a screeching demand for justice by an author out for blood and hell-bent on revenge.
What gives me the right to make such a claim, other than the fact that it's apparent on every page?
Well, I've been reading pissed-off Jon Krakauer books for a long time. I know his style, and I recognize his shortcomings as a writer. He's particularly gifted at persuasion, which he achieves by intertwining facts with subtle plays on readers' emotions. That makes for effective storytelling, but it's shitty journalism. And it's particularly shitty in this book, where Krakauer distorts the truth, and then data dumps in order to pass off his emotions as facts.
Trying to separate facts from an author's feelings is hard, not to mention irritating.
But let's see if we can give it a shot anyway.
Fact 1: Krakauer has an integrity / credibility problem Before we start, let's remember that Krakauer isn't an academic, or a formally trained researcher or journalist. (He got an Environmental Studies degree in 1976, and he worked for Outside Magazine for a while). He's just some guy who writes books based on research gleaned from surfing the Internet. The lack of training and credentials is important, because it calls into question Krakaeur's competence. This is an important consideration, as many of Krakauer's sources in Three Cups of Deceit have accused him of distorting facts, twisting words, and purposefully misquoting them.
Fact 2: Greg Mortenson doesn't know how to run a nonprofit The only fact in Krakauer's verbal slaughter of Greg Mortenson is this: Mortenson never should have been in a leadership position at the CAI. *That's it.* Mortenson was a visionary, a brilliant fundraiser, and excellent at executing projects, but he was notoriously bad at planning, project management/follow-up, staffing, and bookkeeping. He lacked the necessary experience to be in a leadership position, but he stayed in that role because he created the charity.
Krakauer says that "to a number of people, Mortenson's [irresponsible work performance] was more pathological than quirky." (Whoa! That sounds serious...and ominous! Who are these mystery people? Have you got a direct quote? Wait a minute....opinion stated as fact! A claim you can't prove, presented as truth! Good one! You almost got me there, Jon!) Well, that's stupid. Mortenson's inability to plan, his disregard for rules, his lack of followup, and his obliviousness to financial realities sound like classic symptoms of adult ADHD--that's essentially a learning disability, and hardly indicative of some evil embezzling mastermind.
In any case, Krakauer proves nothing.
Let's get back to our fact-hunt.
Fact 3: Greg Mortenson repaid the CAI and stepped down from its board
Wow. It seems Krakauer wrote himself into a frenzy over something pretty...minor.
Fact 4: Three Cups of Tea isn't a literary fraud Few things make me giddier than a phony writer being outed, but Three Cups of Tea was never selling fiction as truth. (Krakauer would say my assertion "demonstrates how difficult it is to correct a false belief after...having made an emotional investment in that belief." OMG, manipulative jerk).
So what of Krakauer's accusation that entire sections of Three Cups of Tea were fabricated?
Um. Duh? I mean, come on, Jonny-boy, you're not telling me you believed that whole kidnapped-by-the-Taliban bit, are you? Oh no...you didn't fall for the Mother Teresa tale, did you? Christ, Jon, you should have been able to spot bullshit on the first page! I mean, aren't you supposed to be smart or something??
I'm not siding with Three Cups of Tea out of some emotional investment (I have none), but because it was obvious from page 1 that the story was largely horseshit.
It was so glaringly obvious that in 2006, I couldn't even get past the first chapter for months: the "Christ-like figure descending the mountain" imagery set off my b.s. detector big time. And that was little 26 year-old, pre-graduate degree me, so spotting bullshit clearly didn't require expertise or careful reading. When I finally read the introduction, where co-author David Oliver Relin explains that he took creative license because Mortenson was impossible to track down, I was finally able to read the book.
Um....an author admitting in the 2006 intro that he used literary license? Uh....the publishing process itself, which requires stories to change again to meet editors'/publishers' requirements?
Humor me, Jon: How is that a scandal? How is that fabrication?
Hey, Jon? It's not Relin's fault you fell for the fantastic claims in the book. It's your fault. You may be an engaging writer, but you're a bad reader.
Fact 5: No good came from Three Cups of Deceit Here's the result of Krakauer's bad reading and irresponsible reporting: the reputational hit cost the CAI millions in donations, which meant that countless Afghan and Pakistani girls lost the chance to get an education. Closer to home, the stress from Krakaeur's expose gave Mortenson a heart attack (literally), Mortenson's 12 year-old daughter tried to kill herself, and Mortenson's coauthor David Oliver put his head on some railroad tracks.
WOW! Taking down a man, his daughter, his life's work, a charity, the benefactors of that charity, and a fine writer, all in 70 pages? That's got to be some kind of record. Clearly, awesome stuff happens when a personal vendetta is the driving force behind your book!
And I suppose Mortenson should be the one to bear the blame for all of it? Not Krakauer, though, right? I mean, don't shoot the messenger...right?
Well. Maybe we need to rethink that philosophy, especially when the messenger is a goddamned jerk.
Yes, I'm pointing the finger at Krakauer. Yes, I'm saying he's responsible for the negative repercussions of his book.
Fact 6: Jon Krakauer was one of my favorite writers....
...but now I want to tell him off. I'd say:
Hey, Jon, I get you. Seriously. There are 3 things unleash the crazy in me: people who lie, authors who try to bullshit me, and people who mess with my money. You think (but can't prove) that you got all 3 offenses from Mortenson in one fell swoop. Believe me. I feel your rage.
But here's the thing, Jon. You're not an untouchable, or somehow exempt from the rules because you're a best-selling author. Writers--all of us--have some degree of responsibility for what we write. If you were really concerned about misdeeds by Mortenson, you could have pursued the legal route. But you didn't. You wrote a sensationalist, manipulative ebook in which you let your rage distort the facts, while you tout your assumptions as the truth--and you did it not out of concern for the CAI or its donors, but because you wanted revenge. Even worse? Not only do you refuse to accept responsibility for *any* of the tragic fallout from your book, but you've managed to convince yourself that what you've done in Three Cups of Deceipt is noble.
That's cowardly and immature. And sick.
Fact 7: Why I'll (probably) never read another book by Jon Krakauer I think I only ever liked Krakauer's books because there was something so familiar about them. (No, I'm not projecting--I'm recognizing similarities). I know what it's like to show the world how tough you are by pouring rage into dangerous endeavors and extreme sports. And I've lived the pattern Krakaeur describes: convincing yourself that brooding and obsession fuel good research; allowing frenzied rage to drive your quest for the truth; adopting the conviction that exposing a liar is noble and good.
The problem with rage-fueled moralistic quests is that we all misfire at some point, and the wrong people get hurt. Krakauer misfired big time here, and he doesn't even see it.
I asked Krakauer last week if Three Cups of Deceit was worth it, despite the tragic fallout. He looked me in the eye and said, "Yes, absolutely" before launching into some explanation. His response was enough to make my flesh crawl. I stopped listening.
Krakauer's response unsettled me because I realized that he's writing from a dark place. And he's in deep. This book isn't just Krakauer's compulsive hunger to tear down someone else. It's Krakauer's attempt to undermine your faith in someone who was actually doing good.
Krakauer wants you to join him in that dark place where he resides. After all, dark places are no fun when you're all alone.
After 20 years of championing Krakauer, I now feel like the gullible reader, taken in an emotionally manipulated by my favorite writer. But let's give credit where credit is due. At least Krakauer is talented enough to perfectly articulate how that feels: "It's difficult to correct a false belief after people have made an emotional investment in that belief being true. When our heroes turn out to be sleazebags self-deception is easier than facing the facts."
This book was advertised on my Kindle Fire, so I read the first few pages and downloaded it. I didn't realize at the time that it was published by AmaThis book was advertised on my Kindle Fire, so I read the first few pages and downloaded it. I didn't realize at the time that it was published by Amazon.
Well, for once, I'm not mad at the author.
Instead, I'm furious with Amazon, and whichever of its self-proclaimed "editors" worked on this book. This is precisely why you don't let a metrics-obsessed e-store publish novels: the real editors escape as fast as possible, and the ones left behind are clearly unqualified. That ends up doing a huge disservice to authors, and to readers who pay for this shit.
I wasn't expecting The Good Neighbor to go beyond a Shutter Island level of literacy, but it never even got that far. I'd say it's the most amateur attempt at a novel I've ever seen, but it's not--it just needed about 6 more rounds at a writing workshop before being submitted anywhere for publication.
And I don't think any of this is the author's fault.
Look. Bad writing happens. It's just fact. But aren't editors supposed to help authors not sound like idiots? Isn't that part of the job? Because look at how irritating it can be when editors are asleep at the wheel:
--After being hit on the head, our narrator explains that she'd "suffered a concussion, a mild form of brain injury." I know what a concussion is, thanks.
Or how about this?
--"Eris threw yogurt in the bender. Then she chopped up bananas and turned on the blender." A 3rd grader could figure out how to make these sentences read better. Oh, and the narrator will finish that one smoothie on two separate occasions on the same page.
Didn’t anyone at Amazon bother to proofread this?
And don’t get me started on characters, places, and movement.
--When characters get upset, their features "darken." Don’t believe me? “Johnny’s eyes darkened.” “Todd Severson’s face darkened.” “Her eyes darkened.” “He blinked, his eyes darkening.” “Did his eyes just darken in the mirror?”
When their features aren't “darkening,” our two main characters show affection by wrapping their arms around each others’ waists:
--“He wrapped his arms around my waist, both of us gazing in the mirror,” ; “He wrapped his arms around my waist from behind,” (that’s hot) ; “He wrapped his arms around my waist to steady me” ; “I wrapped my arms around his waist. I needed to feel his solidity.” And it’s not just these two – even the neighbors do it: “He stepped back…wrapping his arm around his wife’s waist.” I mean, this is just silly.
--The Hispanic characters speak exactly two words of Spanish at various times throughout the book: “Dios mio.” Then they break into English again. Well, bad stereotypes do make for great stock characters. Or Looney Tunes characters. (But I'm pretty sure Speedy Gonzales speaks more Spanish than that).
--The lawn of every house where children reside is covered with toys and a bicycle with training wheels. There is no variation here at all—ever.
--Our narrator has some odd need to tell us how everything smells, leading me to think that she has an olfactory disorder, or that her friends are a smelly bunch living in a really stinky place: “He’d smelled different when we’d arrived at the cottage.” ; “The air smelled faintly of rosewater.” ; “ She smelled of patchouli and lip gloss” ; “She smelled like baby powder” ; “He smelled mildly ruddy” (?????) ; “She smelled of clove cigarettes and wet wool.” Fuck me. Even when I was pregnant and could smell a rotting apple core at the bottom of a trash can six blocks away, I didn’t smell as many things as this narrator does. This is clearly a case of the author taking the "show don't tell," advice from kindergarten ("describe the senses!") a little too literally.
So where were the fucking editors? Why weren’t they catching these things?
Even worse than ignoring the sloppy repetition, the editors clearly didn’t take a stand in places where the writing is simply, undeniably . . .bad. It made for so many utterly crap-tastic sections that I was laughing my ass off through a majority of the novel:
--“Autumn was showing off, but sooner or later, autumn would turn into winter, and the trees would lose all of their leaves.” This is easily the worst sentence I’ve read in print in ten years. Hysterical.
--“I could almost see the flames reflected in his eyes.” Haha. No, you couldn’t. I know what you were going for by writing this, but it’s just bad. DELETE.
"Haven’t you heard the saying a woman is like a tea bag, you never know what she’s made of until you dip her in hot water?” LOL!
--"Dr. Johnny McDonald, a dashing bachelor..." I'm pretty sure the term "dashing bachelor" should never be in print outside of a Harlequin romance novel. And someone named Johnny McDonald described as a "dashing bachelor" is irresistibly funny.
--“Halfway through the meal, the doorbell rang, a melodic ding-dong reverberating through the house.” Because there’s just...nothing quite like a...melodic ding-dong.
These tidbits were so hilarious that I'd recommend the book for the laugh factor alone. But is that really the goal of a mystery novel? To have readers laughing at the bad writing? I think not. So, again, where was the editor? Why wasn't anyone telling this chick to kill her darlings and fix this stuff??
It gets even more maddening. I read somewhere that our author likes Daphne du Maurier. Well, that's nice. While I appreciate the many instances in the novel where Banner pays homage to du Maurier—the fire, the charred copy of Rebecca in the ashes, the young woman taken in by the “dashing bachelor” (gag), the rhododendrons, the creepy dilapidated shack by the water, et. al.—the attempt to imitate her is just...lame. (Anyone's attempt at writing like du Maurier would be lame--that's why she's a legend and the rest of us are mediocre). Because how did du Maurier accomplish Maxim’s “big reveal” in Rebecca? Easy. Maxim confesses because he has to—he thinks he’s about to be caught—and what follows is one of literature's greatest plot twists. I get that Banner tried to have a character do a Rebecca-esque 180 on us in The Good Neighbor, but unsurprisingly, it's a flop: the the bad guy is only mildly surprising, and the “big reveal” happens for no reason, with no twist, just because the book has to end somewhere.
A good editor would have explained to Banner that any attempt to write like du Maurier is bound to fail, and would have had her rewrite the ending.
And why am I blaming the editors instead of the author?
Because believe it or not, Banner has potential, and it’s glaringly obvious that she had no editorial guidance. It's not her fault that the book was clearly rushed to publication. And if someone had bothered to do their job, this novel actually could have been a decent read. That’s the greatest pity of this book: the mess completely overshadows the few redeeming qualities, especially the author’s talent for describing nature. I know well the Washington forests Banner writes about, and run through them every weekend--her descriptions are beautiful and spot-on. Oh, and one plot twist literally made me gasp.
So, the the talent is there. It just needs work. It just needs a goddamn editor.
2 stars because it's not the author's fault...and because I didn't completely hate it. ...more
I have a weakness for anyone who comes back from the Czech Republic with a fucked up tale to tell (it seems there are so many of us), so when I heardI have a weakness for anyone who comes back from the Czech Republic with a fucked up tale to tell (it seems there are so many of us), so when I heard D. Randall Blythe--a heavy metal rocker arrested in Prague for causing a fan's death at a previous show in that city--discussing his ordeal on NPR, I downloaded the book before the interview was even half over.
Few (if any) Americans have been cuffed upon landing at Ruzyně airport, carted off to the notorious Pankrác prison, forced to endure the foreign world of the Czech legal system, and emerge exonerated. When it happens to a famous, tough-guy metal-head, it's an irresistible read...for the likes of me, anyway.
I never expected the book to be good, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how entertaining it turned out to be. Blythe's experience in Pankrác and his subsequent trial were interesting, but what truly had me smiling were the smaller moments and details that revealed so much about the author:
--Upon being arrested in Prague, Blythe is told to face the car and put his hands on the roof, and as he does so, "I spread my feet apart automatically" because he's been arrested so many times before. (Love it).
--When a Czech police officer struggles to remove Blythe's handcuffs: "I honestly wanted to tell him to fetch me my wallet from the plastic bag across the room so I could get out my handcuff key and show him how to get these damn things off." (Hilarious).
--In describing his tendency to "awful-ize" things: "Within a matter of seconds, I can mentally chart a progression starting with me neglecting to cut my front lawn and ending in global nuclear catastrophe." (A great way to explain anxiety; even more impressive are the numerous ways in which Blythe stops himself and redirects his thoughts, especially in situations where most of us would be freaking out).
--Although Blythe discusses his past alcoholism and drug abuse at length, one tidbit stood out for me so much that it cemented Blythe in my mind as someone at least somewhat honest, and wholly realistic: "I am not certain I will remain sober the rest of my life." (I appreciate that much more than the newly-sober, and "cured" addict evangelizing the greatness of their 6 months without booze).
--One of Blythe's prison guards whispers through a hatch in the door, "I am very sorry you are here! ... I saw you [play] at Rock-Am Park, I am a drummer, too! You must go home! We are all metal brothers!" (I was touched by the sense of community that Blythe has through his music...and also took this as an indication that really, he doesn't have it that bad in prison).
As for the rest of Blythe's story? Believe it or not, it's relatable.
Blythe's feeling of being caught in a powerless limbo away from home is universal--especially for anyone who's had things go awry abroad. This is a book for anyone who's been stranded at a foreign station at 2AM, waiting for the train that never came; for anyone who has followed road signs to an attraction for hours, only to end up exactly where they started; for anyone whose wallet and documents have been stolen, only to find that every Western Union office is closed for some obscure foreign holiday; for anyone who found themselves confused and frustrated by a country's inefficiency, and left feeling so alone and helpless that you're sure if you died, no one would bother to kick your maggot-infested corpse out of the way.
And while I enjoyed this book, keep a few warnings in mind before you commit to the $15 and the 500 pages:
--Blythe meanders a lot, tends to get preachy, and has a massive flair for drama. It gets tiresome quickly, and one begins to wonder why these sections (along with the numerous typos and grammatical errors) weren't cleaned up.
--Although you can't help but feel for Blythe, especially when it comes to the language barrier (Czech isn't exactly a language you can pick your way through by association--it feels designed to keep people out), there are way too many cheap shots at Czechs who don't speak English. UGH. Believe it or not, Randall, state employees in a tiny landlocked country in central Europe are not required to know English. Get over yourself, and see if you can get one of those gruff prison guards to teach you a few essential Czech words. And practice pronouncing the ř if you get bored.
--The book is too long, and at a certain point, the self-centeredness gets old--especially because there's very little action in the story. It would have helped if Blythe had discussed something outside his point of view: What was his band doing without him? How was his family holding up? Who was the young man who died at his concert? If you can't do that, you've got about 200 pages to slash from your memoir.
--Let's get real here. Blythe was in Pankrác for 35 days and wrote 500 pages about it. Consider that against a few other, similar memoirs. Amanda Knox endured 2 trials in Italy and went to prison for 4 yeas: her memoir is 329 pages. Ingrid Betancourt wrote a 544-page memoir, but she was held captive in the jungle for 6 years. (Her fellow captives were also held hostage for years, and none of their memoirs exceed 400 pages). And you're telling me that tough guy metal rocker was felled by 35 days in Pankrác in little ol' Praha? For real? As I read, a part of my brain kept screaming, "Oh come on, you big pussy! At least you weren't in Pankrác during World War II! At least you're not in prison in Pakistan!" Either way, there should be a new rule for locked-up-abroad memoirs: you get 100 pages per year; more if you were tortured. That's it.
I suppose I shouldn't complain. After all, Blythe did something the majority of us wouldn't do: after he was released from Pankrác and allowed to go back to the United States, he actually returned to Prague for his trial, and vowed to serve the 10 year-sentence he faced if he were convicted. Jesus.
So don't buy this book for a fucked up Prague story, because it's more than that. Instead, it's the story of a guy who had the balls to do the right thing.
Definitely worth reading...if you can stand the length.
4 stars because it got boring...and because my 500-page, 10 year-long fucked up Prague story is way better. :)...more
Holy hell. A writer I actually like. Shocking, I know, so pay attention.
Since Goodreads and Amazon are overrun with paid reviewers and authors' friendHoly hell. A writer I actually like. Shocking, I know, so pay attention.
Since Goodreads and Amazon are overrun with paid reviewers and authors' friends 5-starring their books, let's get that out of the way first.
I don't know Ann Brocklehurst. I stumbled upon her website in 2013 because she was the first person to call bullshit on Linda Tirado's poverty essay, and we ended up trading some Twitter messages over that whole scam. Oh, and when her Tirado article resulted in some low-blows from Gawker douchebag Adam Weinstein, I thought Brocklehurst showed remarkable restraint -- I'd have been out for blood.
Since I have a weakness for smart people who are also good writers (there are so few of them), I've checked in on Brocklehurst's other writing now and then. I felt totally validated by her take on Serial, I got all fascinated by her archived New York Times articles about Germany in the first years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I enjoyed her eBook The Mysterious Death of Jeffrey Boucher when I read it last year.
That's about it. I like her writing a lot, but I don't know this chick, we're not friends, and I'm not writing this based on some free advance review copy. She pinged me on Goodreads letting me know about her new eBook, I bought it from Amazon, and here we are.
Preamble over. Let's talk about the book. (Or rather, eBook: sort of like buying a feature article without the rest of the magazine -- it's cheaper, and you're not stuck with all of the stupid perfume ads).
The story covers 8 days of testimony at a sexual assault trial in Toronto. As far as rape trials go, it's all pretty standard: a 17 year-old girl accuses her star athlete ex-boyfriend of sexual assault; he swears it was consensual; alcohol was involved; there are troubling photographs of the girl's injuries; both parties have been caught telling inconsistent stories. The court gets to sift through this mess and make a decision.
Although it may seem like the same sexual assault narrative we've heard a thousand times before, there's something quite different going on in this particular trial--and in its retelling.
Something is missing here...but what?
There are none of the shocking details that you find in the Rolling Stone campus rape article by Stephen Glass Sabrina Rubin Erdely. And unlike Krakauer's Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, there are no emotional interviews between author and accuser, no victim-blaming cop harboring political ambitions, no scandal dividing a community.
It goes on.
No screeching updates on Jezebel.com, no images splashed all over WaPo of a girl dragging a mattress with her everywhere, no psychopath doxxing a possible rape victim, no idiots plastering their asinine thoughts about sexual assault all over Twitter.
In short, there is a distinct lack of high drama that one would normally expect in a book like this.
And good Christ, the lack of hysteria was so refreshing.
The Toronto trial was civilized: it was a confidential matter (you won't be able to Google these people), the court scrutinized the evidence and made a fair decision. Case closed.
As for Brocklehurst's take on it all? Don't expect any of that Krakauer-esque rage to come seeping through the text. Actually, I don't remember her giving an opinion on much at all -- really, she only tells readers what took place. (I think in the pre-Internet days, that was called "reporting"?) I'm already partial to emotionally absent narrators, but good God...this gave me flashbacks to the 1990s, when you could pick up a newspaper and read an objective account by a trained journalist you could actually trust. (Well, except for Stephen Glass, but whatever).
And while I had an extremely emotional reaction to Missoula, I actually found Ann Brocklehurst's book to be much more unsettling. It wasn't just the natural tension that arose from the frank reporting. I think the best way to articulate it is this: when you cut away the noise and just focus on what happens during a rape trial...it's fucking upsetting. Sexual assaults are difficult to prove, the accuser and the accused are both traumatized (albeit for different reasons), kids' futures are at stake, and the court has the fun job of figuring out who's lying.
Yeah, I bit my manicure off. Always a sign of a good read.
2/24/16 I just watched a woman stand up in front of several hundred people and slice through Krakauer's dramatics and sensationalism.
She took a fact-2/24/16 I just watched a woman stand up in front of several hundred people and slice through Krakauer's dramatics and sensationalism.
She took a fact-based approach to confront Krakauer, and she pointed out an important problem with what he's written.
It was amazing, and she got lots of applause.
I think it made me understand why I haven't been comfortable with Krakauer for almost a decade: his last 3 books have a strong undercurrent of rage, and while that anger makes for an emotional and gripping read, it also distorts facts.
I appreciate what Krakauer has done here. He's written an emotional book that brings attention to an important issue.
But this guy is writing from a dark place. He's seething, and you can feel that anger in his books, and when you're in the same room with him. I don't want to follow him down that path any more, no matter how well he writes.
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 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 actually feel like deleting this. I shouldn't be giving this $%$# the free publicity. Ugh, you're welcome, Harriet.**
And then along came this book**I actually feel like deleting this. I shouldn't be giving this $%$# the free publicity. Ugh, you're welcome, Harriet.**
And then along came this book, where Harriet Brown has morphed from "curer of eating disorders" to den mother of the Fat Acceptance movement. Unlike her last book, at least now Brown is trying to do something good: she encourages body diversity, shares personal stories of her struggles with weight, and gives life to the pain suffered by those who are fat-shamed.
Her attempt is there. It's the way she goes about it that makes me want to burn something.
Her basic claim is that Americans need to stop trying to lose weight because there is nothing unhealthy about being overweight or obese. And in typical Harriet Brown-style manipulation, she backs up her ideas with "research," then juxtaposes her findings with traumatic, first-person vignettes by women who have struggled with weight and body image issues.
Well fuck me running. Oh, but I shouldn't make references to running, lest I be fat-shaming. Where was I?
Ah yes, Harriet backs up her ideas about obesity being perfectly healthy with the biggest data dump I've ever seen. Of course.
You can't just drop a bunch of quotes from outdated publications, statistics from studies shunned by the country's leading medical experts, and inaccurate factoids from Jezebel.com, footnote it all, and call it "research." I would have failed one of my freshman comp students for less. (I did, come to think of it).
Because that's not research. Real researchers -- you know, the kind paid by universities, publishing houses, corporations, et. al. -- don't hunt around for a bunch of inaccurate, out-of-context data points for the sole purpose of supporting their ideas. That's the kind of cherry-picking "research" that the likes of Chuck C. Johnson and 9/11 conspiracy theorists living in mom's basement do. If professional researchers did that, the result wouldn't be research. It would be a self-serving, unethical distortion of reality.
Kind of like your book.
Oh, wait. Was that my out loud voice?
And this is what I love about Harriet Brown: She can go lower than the slimiest bottom-feeder, so long as as some published opinion somewhere supports her own. Some adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii contradicts the leading medical experts at Harvard? Hawaii it is! A 20 year-old study saying diabetes is not linked to obesity? Run it! A dubious study (widely criticized by America's obesity specialists) claiming that it's not unhealthy to be obese? Go with it! We're in Harriet Brown Land now, where academics, doctors, and experts are all wrong, and the quacks on the fringes who can't get their studies published are now the authority on all things healthy-fat.
This is why you don't let someone with an MFA in Creative Writing position herself as a "science writer." (Are you listening, New York Times?)
Well. When you've got pages upon pages of questionable data, it makes it impossible to argue with an author. It's like trying to debate a schizophrenic's word salad.
Since I don't have 6 months to sift through Brown's half-truths, I will say that I think this woman is dangerous, her logic is flawed, and she needs a serious attitude change.
But don't take it from me. Here are a few zingers for your enjoyment.
1. "[She needed to] give up the fantasy of being thin...let go of the idea...that she would lose the weight and keep it off." Yes. Because losing weight and keeping it off is a fantasy. Well, now, that's encouraging.
2. "When we can't skip a day at the gym, we sacrifice the chance to get a graduate degree, learn a language, acquire career skills, develop relationships..." Well that's funny because I have a graduate degree, speak two foreign languages, have great career skills, have lots of rewarding relationships...and I work out almost every day. What the FUCK? So taking 30-60 minutes a day to be healthy interferes with life, Harriet? What an awesome way to see the world.
3. "I'm not a fan of fast or processed food...I haven't drunk soda...since I was sixteen, and I prefer water to juice and other caloric drinks. I eat a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy, fish, chicken, and whole grains." :) >>cough cough bullshit cough cough<< Hey, Harriet, remember on page 1 where you said you had friends over and you were "eating lemon poppy seed cake"? Remember how on page 3 you said your family members commented that you were "eating [yourself] into an early grave"? Remember page 59, where you say "most of us under-report what we've eaten"? Maybe instead of just giving up on a healthy diet and exercise (and encouraging others to do so with you), you should view food not as "love and community and ritual that...binds us to other people more often than sex," and see it more as going from hungry to full in the least destructive way possible. Maybe skip the lemon poppy seed cake, too. But that's just me.
4. "We certainly know that men find a range of women's body sizes attractive...and that men are attracted to women with curvy rather than ultrathin bodies. And we also know that lesbians and bisexual women are attracted to curvy women who are heavier than social norms dictate." Sigh. The use of the collective "we," -- another amateur mistake worthy of a college freshman in Comp 101. A sweeping claim about all straight men and bi/lesbian women, based on a single poll conducted by a British magazine in 2012. And a little swipe at thin people for good measure. Fuck -- really?? This is Harriet Brown at her best.
I wouldn't be so pissed off at Brown if she weren't taking such an important topic, twisting it to fit her needs, and spouting dangerous information. I can't argue with her without writing a book of my own, but I can inject a little common sense to counter the crazy.
--No, Harriet, when a doctor tells a patient to lose weight, it's not fat-shaming, nor is it a conspiracy between doctors and big pharma to make money off of the obese. Obesity specialists (you know, the doctors who wouldn't speak with you for your book--ever wonder what that could mean?) are not out to get you. Despite the obscure medical studies you managed to dig out, the legit studies (that you happily dismiss) link obesity to diabetes, 10 types of cancer, and a host of other illnesses.
--Yes, Harriet, there are plenty of people who are overweight and exercise. You were practically giddy to conclude that because your New York Times pal Steven Blair runs a few miles a day and is still overweight, he's fat and healthy. Sigh. Know why he's overweight, Harriet? His body has adapted to running and he eats too much. You can run a marathon a day and still be overweight if you eat too much. Especially if you've got a desk job. Especially if you're over 30. Does it mean that an overweight person who exercises is healthy?Welllllllll....I could run up to 10 miles a day even when I was a pack-a-day smoker. What do you think? Was I healthy when, after a vigorous 10-mile run, I lit up and puffed away on cigarette number 14?
--Yes, Harriet, you can judge health by body size. You can safely assume that an obese person struggling to make it up a flight of stairs is less healthy than a skinny marathoner. I can safely assume that the smoker who runs 10 miles a day is as unhealthy as the overweight, lemon poppy seed cake-eating author who doesn't exercise enough. Don't believe me? Look at official death rates linked to obesity and stop waving around some study you found at the bottom of a desk drawer at FU university. What you can't discern from body size are strength and endurance. That's about it.
--Sorry to break it to you, Harriet, but the doctors saying weight is our personal responsibility are correct. I know you like to cite other contributing factors--illnesses that affect 1% of the population, poverty (whole grain pasta was 50 cents a box the last time I checked), and pollutants--and in some cases, you might be right. I know you also love to divorce all personal responsibility from eating disorders, but in the end, whether people are anorexic or overweight, what they do or don't put into their bodies comes down to personal choice. Your body size is your own responsibility. It sucks. Deal with it.
--Yes, Harriet, exercise is hard, and eating right is harder. I'm glad you're on some body-acceptance kick, but packaging it as "fat is healthy" is dangerous and wrong. I wish you would read Born to Run, quash your food fears, do away with your pathological denial, and fall in love with endurance exercise. It's what the human body is meant to do. Maybe then you wouldn't assume that every normal-sized person is some religious dieter living a rigid, miserable life of deprivation and physical torture.
Or perhaps it's easier to live in Harriet Brown's magical version of reality, where it's perfectly healthy to be obese, where she has zero role in causing her daughter's eating disorder, and the unicorns dance about with the Easter Bunny and conduct "research" in their spare time.
Oh, but wait, the book. The book review.
Sorry, I got sidetracked.
It's just a bunch of repurposed, self-plagiarized articles Brown wrote for the New York Times and the Atlantic. Read one of those instead and save yourself the time, the mental anguish, and the $15.
Or, try it Harriet's way. Read the book. Disregard the medical experts. Forgo healthy eating. Don't worry about exercise. See what happens.
I don't really have a lot to add to the discussion about this book. Clearly, it's an undisputed master of both biography and storytelling.
Here's whatI don't really have a lot to add to the discussion about this book. Clearly, it's an undisputed master of both biography and storytelling.
Here's what I will say...
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 her exhaustingly researched and meticulously detailed story, flickers of literary greatness light up 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 never 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 was hard on Kim in my review, but I stand by what I wrote, even more so after having attende 3/20/16
So I went to the Suki Kim Q&A last weekend.
I was hard on Kim in my review, but I stand by what I wrote, even more so after having attended the Q&A: she said that her book is investigative journalism and not a memoir, and that it was only labeled a memoir because her publisher insisted on it.
The book is nowhere near investigative journalism, and is one of the weakest North Korea memoirs I've ever read.
Should I go to see Suki Kim's thing? I don't want to....but am starting to wonder if I should....
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 abroad in some exotic 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 lives of American fundamentalist Christians and ordinary North Koreans -- two fascinating groups that should provide plenty of fodder for a decent memoir. Yet, the author fails us. The result is not a memoir about North Korea. It's just a couple hundred pages of whining by a chick who can't deal with not getting laid for a few months.
I'm not kidding.
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 are completely overshadowed by the author's self-centeredness, and her obsessive longing for a guy we never even get to meet. Kim spills a little bit about the non-existent sex lives (um, who cares?) of the unwed Christian faculty at the university, but promptly brushes them aside to give readers a healthy overdose of her own life...and it's weird, distracting, and ever present throughout the book.
A couple of examples?
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. Um, okay.
Later, for whatever reason, she'll have her all-male class write essays about "How to Successfully Get a Girl." What a great topic for a college-level English course: not only is it irrelevant to her students' lives, it's also culturally insensitive as fuck. North Koreans don't "get girls." Due to mandatory military service, North Korean men don't date for the first decade after high school. After their military service, a majority of North Koreans' marriages are arranged by their parents. Kim will of course tell us she's trying to open students' minds with these types of topics. Uh-huh...one American woman successfully deprogramming brainwashed North Korean men, one clever ESL lesson at a time? Yeah, right. The lone female in the room asking young men to write about how to win over a woman, when winning over a woman isn't a part of their culture? Gee. That sounds a lot like attention-seeking...as if Kim chose the "How to Successfully Get a Girl" topic to heighten the sexual tension in the room and solidify her position as Pyongyang's most talented cock tease. Um. Awesome?
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 is content to ignore her emails. Kim writes so much about this lover, yet reveals almost nothing about him -- not even why she's so enamored with him. One begins to question if he exists at all. But then Kim hammers out some gems that only true 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." Sigh...Suki, God gave you 10 fingers for a reason. Deal with it. Or at least pack a Jack Rabbit on your next trip to Pyongyang and spare us the drivel.
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 got the sense that Kim was directing it towards the Brooklynite who couldn't be bothered to return her emails.
But I digress.
Some 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 pupils. Kim gets bored and homesick and insists that her life in Pyongyang is dull. Kim also develops a strange, maternal affection for students who aren't much younger than she is, and then she misses the lover some more.
By the end of the book, I was almost fascinated by sheer depths of Suki's self-centered wallowing, which not only prevented her from accomplishing anything meaningful in Pyongyang, but kept her from noticing the the bigger picture...Like, you know, the fact that she's fortunate as fuck to be a bored American in North Korea...and that luxury is afforded to her simply because she was born on the right part of the planet....and that most of the 25 million people currently locked inside the prison-nation of North Korea would probably give anything to trade places with her.
I just couldn't take it. This isn't a memoir about North Korea. It's a boring book about the weird relationships and situations that develop out of a 30-something's dry spell abroad. North Korea and Kim's fundamentalist Christian colleagues are the selling point, but they merely function as the backdrop for the tale of Kim's shitty love life. Kim should thank her publisher's marketing team for repackaging this nonsense and spinning it as a North Korean memoir.
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 how much I have in common with Linda Tirdao.
I, like Tirado, had a caring family and a relatively privileged upbringing. I, like Tirado,It amazes me 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 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 has 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 an 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. Um. What is she even talking about? Contractors earn more than salaried employees precisely because they pay for their own benefits. And guess what? Contract work gets a lot of people in the door and into full-time, permanent positions with companies that otherwise wouldn't even have interviewed them.
--Continuing on the contractor rant, Tirado's assumption that FTEs are better off than contractors because of "job security" is nauseatingly naive. A full-time employee can walk into work on any given morning and be laid off for no reason at all. At least contractors have definitive start and end dates. But I guess for Tirado to know any of this, she'd have to have worked a real job...which probably isn't necessary when your grandparents buy you a house.
--Equally irritating is Tirado's assumption that salaried employees with benefits are better off than minimum wage workers with crappy benefits. In fact, Tirado discusses 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 their asses off, have benefits, make $80,000 a year, and are in financial dire straits. Don't believe me? Think about single parents. Think about people living in high cost of living areas. Think about student loan debt. Car payments. The cost of childcare. Think about medical bills, or better yet, people with kids who have huge medical bills. If Tirado had any understanding of work, money, and paying for shit herself, she might be surprised at how quickly any of the aforementioned scenarios eat up a fat salary...and just how many in the top 25% of earners are one paycheck away from the street -- that is, no better off than the working poor she whines about. No, Linda, I'm afraid the rest of the world doesn't have it better than you, after all. :(
--And you've gotta love Tirado's attitude towards work. She 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 she claims is 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 professional manner towards customers? Yeah. I guess I call that work. I guess I call that part of the 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 for this book to call home. 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 -- not club employees. The strippers paid the club to be able to dance there. Strippers' dues were a huge source of a club's income, and they didn't get fired, for fuck's sake. Dancers were barred from working only if they owed back rent to the club. As for the story of being fired for a bad boob job? Sigh. Strip clubs are dark -- the only illumination comes from dim red lights, purposely chosen because they mask every physical flaw. In that environment, no one is going to see the silicone leaking. And in an industry where fucking customers for money and blowing lines in the bathroom are no biggies, trust me, you're not getting fired for your tits. Someone is lying here, and given her track record with the truth, I'll wager it's Linda.
--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? When a person can't even keep her own lies straight, she's not worth my time.
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?
Of course, 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 hushed away because Islamic societies punish the woman and not the perpetrator; 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 bytes 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