Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

WatchmenPreface: I strongly suspect that everything I might say about this book has already been said, and better than I could after just one reading and with other things demanding my time. But it’s worth acknowledging that I could probably agree with 47 different positions on this book, as long as they all acknowledge its complexity and stunning artistry.

Here’s what I told Goodreads on the subject:

Watchmen by Alan Moore
rating: 4 of 5 stars
Awesomely layered, awesomely referential, awesomely complex, awesomely problematic, awesomely mid-eighties, awesomely entertaining, and awesomely troubling.
(All my reviews.)

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Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is one of those authors I vaguely respect and follow. I’ve read one or two of her novels, and hear lovely things about her, so she’s categorized in my head as a smart, interesting lady. Thus, when I saw her newest book, Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth while on lunch break from jury selection, I picked it up. She’s a writer and a feminist, I thought; surely her literary approach to the credit crisis can help me make sense of it and expand my ways of thinking about it.

Unfortunately, I’m about to quit less than seventy pages in. To give her the full benefit of the doubt, the chapters were originally written as part of a radio forum and presented orally; that format requires a different level and complexity of thought. I think I might find this book tolerable if I were to hear it on the radio while half-awake or driving or cleaning house, which are the things I usually do while listening to public radio. (more…)

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Love in the Time of Cholera After two years of highly academic reading, it can be hard to read books without placing them in a literary context or analyzing the theoretical implications of the plot. Garcia Marquez, however, is the perfect escape from all that. First, it is in translation, so no fair doing close textual analysis on the English version (and I don’t speak or read Spanish). Second, I know next to nothing about Colombian literature, and very little more about Caribbean literature in general, so I have no context in which to lose the book.

Third, Garcia Marquez’s phenomenally rich plots, deeply layered metaphors, and heartbreakingly human characters don’t just allow me to lose myself in his sensual, gorgeously prosaic world; they force me to lay aside my skepticism, my academic lenses, my critical questions. Unlike the nineteenth-century literature that I’m used to and the childrens literature I love to study, Garcia Marquez’s books don’t have good characters or bad characters. The protagonists do nearly unforgivable things, while the apparent antagonists become confusingly lovable.

Love in the Time of Cholera’s vision of love is so expansive, so physical and intellectual and literary and inclusive, that there is no temptation to root for one lover over another, one definition of love over another. Garcia Marquez allows for the complexity, confusion, and ambiguity of real love and the intense disorientation of aging–but by his ending you only feel more grounded, more sure, and more found than before. View all my reviews.

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One of the vague projects that followed me out of my Master’s degree involves re-reading some of the century-old children’s books I loved when I used to walk to my grandmother’s house after middle school and read (and read and read) them. The past few days saw me working through two of Gene Stratton Porter’s books: Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost. Alas–or perhaps thankfully–neither of them fits neatly into the narrowest construction of my field of interest, as they hardly mention canonical works, let alone allude to them regularly.

However, in the absence of the kind of backwards-looking dialogue about identity that I usually focus on, Porter’s books attempt a different kind of identity-construction. In fact, their lack of canonical reference is probably a part of their identity project: they look forward, and in doing so they must avoid much allusion to the literary–let alone British–past.

No, Porter is very consciously constructing American identity. Freckles, despite his Irish lilt, is figured as quintessentially American. Elnora, our Limberlost girl, is even more obviously and emphatically American. Porter’s sense of what makes them American and what makes them good is apparently clear-cut and innocuous. Yet, as I watch the current presidential race and think about the moral and idealogical dilemmas that we’re facing today, I can’t help reading this subtext on Americanness as an unconscious sort of prophecy about the tensions that are inherent in our national identity.

Freckles embodies American values because he pulls himself up (one-handed, no less) by his swamp-muddied bootstraps–but his innate honor is a signal of his European aristocratic bloodline. Elnora loves and appreciates the wilderness of the Limberlost–but is willing to sell trees or oil wells to fund her education. Freckles is especially American because he claims the Limberlost as home–but his daily guarding only serves to protect it so that it can be exploited by the right people.

In our current conversation, fraught as it is with bootstrapping elites, pedigreed, twelve-housed Joe six-packs, and moose-shooting, oil-drilling wilderness women, the American that Porter constructs seems to have come to pieces. In the century since Freckles and Elnora fictionally moved from the Limberlost of Indiana, the trees have come down along with the coherence that allowed classism and bootstrapping, environmentalism and exploitation, and forward focus and anscestral naming to coexist within the umbrella of American Identity.

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Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future by Daniel H. Pink

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
As I read, I strongly suspected that much of what he is trying to do here has been done before, and probably in more depth (by Zunshine, for instance, in Why We Read Fiction, as well as in more scientific accounts).

But Pink is not really going for depth. Once I bopped myself solidly over the head and recalled his stated goals (I do this regularly while reading nonfiction. This makes me an entertaining reader to observe.), I was able to keep reading with a kinder eye. Rather than getting bogged down in tracing out the nuances of psychology or neuroscience, he attempts to note what he perceives as a sea change. The parts about the mind mostly serve as a guiding metaphor through which he can explain his perceptions of recent and upcoming trends. Also, he explicitly claims to be targeting “L-Directed” people, so his style of argument makes more sense than not.

As a person who is pretty good at analytical thinking but better at synthesis, empathy, and other “R-Directed” things (in Pink’s terms), and a person who is also looking for a job, I was encouraged. It’s hard to hate a book that seems to think things might swing in your direction; obviously, I’m a little bit partial to his claims, which makes me less inclined to critique his writing and his unnecessarily rigid dichotomies. So, uh, read this book if you think you might be “R-Directed” and you happen to be unemployed. It might make you feel temporarily better, and/or help you come up with the vocabulary to sell your skills.

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The Fountainhead The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Read this book when you are seventeen, or not at all. It’s rollicking (if overlong) fun, with romance, betrayal, explosions, trials, and politics. All, of course, driven by Principle, which is only believable when you’re seventeen. (This may be different for some people; it is possible that this book can be good between the ages of 15 and 19.) When you’re seventeen, this book will be stunning, because you’ll still have the ability to skim the “philosophy” and “politics” bits with an eye for what you like, and you’ll still have the readerly arrogance to happily pretend that these bits tell you exactly what you need to hear, which is something to the effect of Emerson’s much less rollicking and also less insane essay “Self-Reliance.”

By the time you’re twenty, you should know that you can only disclose your affair with this book to select people. You should also know that people who think this book has anything to do with actual philosophy or politics are people you should back slowly away from while telling them it is a wonderful book. You should learn to separate your enjoyment of this book from your utter disdain for those Ayn Rand people, because they are scary and they didn’t read it for the plot. You should also have learned that you will have to apologize to anyone who knew you in the vicinity of reading this book, because you were probably a self-righteous, Principled, selfish asshole for at least two weeks after (and possibly during) the completion of this book.

But if you’re seventeen…

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