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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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Though I realize this may make me unworthy of love, employment, or life, I must admit that I’ve never read The Grapes of Wrath. I don’t know why; most books I haven’t read despite many, many entreaties to do so can be attributed to some combination of time and pigheadedness. But when I needed a mass market paperback for the bus the other day, I grabbed Steinbeck.

As I opened it and began the first page, I experienced a strong sense of familiarity. It was stronger than could be explained by my brief encounter with the movie. (A ragingly incompetent highschool teacher once summarized the book for us by showing the movie in fast-forward while telling us some of the plot points she could remember. I was so youthfully, self-righteously offended by this method of presenting books that I think I walked out of the class.) It wasn’t the feeling you get when you see someone familiar but can’t place how you know them, because there’s an alienation inherent in that moment. Rather, it was the feeling that comes when you start talking to someone entirely new. Then, something in the conversation seems like it’s happened before, seems like you must–must–have been best friends already. You check a few associations, wondering if you have met, but your paths have never crossed before.

Steinbeck’s writing felt like that. The rhythm, the cadence, the sweeping Oklahoma landscape, the trucker and the truck-stop waitress all felt like we’d somehow already known each other. Now, as I’m paused before the next chapter, I’m finding myself wondering: is this sense of familiarity one of the strange side effects of a Master’s in English, or is it a testament to Steinbeck’s saturation of American literary culture? Is his work so utterly embedded in our reading and our cultural dialogue that merely living and reading in America for a decade steeps me in his style and his subject-matter? Will reading the rest of the book be like learning Latin, when I continually had to sort out how these words were connected to the ones I already knew and when their derivations only confused the original meanings? Will this sense of familiarity make for an instant friend, or just an eerie beginning?

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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…

View all my reviews.

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