Meave's Reviews > The New Kings of Nonfiction

The New Kings of Nonfiction by Ira Glass
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Aug 30, 2009

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Read in August, 2009

Some of the stories were new to me, and pretty fantastic. A few I'd read before, or heard on "This American Life," and also very much liked. But a couple of them dragged so much, it was a terrible slog to get through them. I really wanted to read DFW's "Host," but it was so DFW-y, all chopped up with a million notes in boxes, it was impossible to read. I appreciate that that is (ugh, WAS) his style, but I couldn't make myself push through it. Maybe it was a reflection of the disjointed feel of listening to right-wing--or any-wing--talk radio, with the host saying whatever s/he says and your analyzing that narrative for facts/fictions; MAYBE. I thought of that just now, anyway. Still, it was too visually unappealing to me to be worth the effort. I do like his essays, though, so I can see returning to it one day.

"Tales of the Tyrant" should have been great, but it was not. It was tedious, and pointlessly repetitive, and I swear I learned the same facts about Saddam Hussein more vividly from that ridiculous BBC/HBO miniseries House of Saddam . And that should not be! Honestly I was really offended when I realized that that soap opera of a miniseries had done a better job of portraying these same stories than the author did, when it seemed that some of the original source material came from the author's interviews. I say "seemed that" because I swear there were verbatim quotes, like, I could hear Yigal Naor as Saddam saying some of the things the story quoted him as saying in dialogue with these tellers of the "Tales." What this story really did is give me new regard for that miniseries; it must've been much more historically accurate than I gave it credit for. Especially the constant tension, which I attributed to trashy Occidental melodrama. The story talked about the constant tension, but wasn't ever able to properly convey a sense of it, which I guess is what makes it unsuccessful.

"Power Steer" I skipped, as nothing Michael Pollan can say about how a cow is brought to slaughter is news to me, nor is it interesting: I am not into torture narratives or gore-fests, you know? Maybe it'd interest people who haven't read the damn Omnivore's Dilemma or wherever that essay ended up, but I am 25 percent of Vegansaurus, I don't need to hear Michael Pollan, omnivore, tell me The Truth About Factory Farms.

Finally, and this is nit-pickier than anything else, Susan Orlean's "The American Man, Age 10" bothered me because the little white boy who lived in the suburbs was supposed to be Every Boy, and, come on. Do the majority of children in the U.S. live in the suburbs? Are the majority of them white? I liked her story, but I think a more appropriate title might've been, "A Vision of My Son, Age 10" or, "The Suburban American Man," &c. Anyway, I HATE the Every Boy narrative, though this was a pretty great essay because it took me until the last couple of pages to realize what was going on and look at it again from a more critical perspective. Maybe if I had more things to occupy my brain I wouldn't expend so much thought on little, 17-year-old essays like this--best part is that this kid is my age--but I don't, so I can't just accept a surface reading.

The remaining essays make the collection most definitely worth reading, though. It's not like it costs anything but time to borrow it from the library.
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