March 22, 2011

Aloha, Imperialism: Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes 6


This double-sided approach – a keen insight into the forces of history combined with an appreciative delight in the coincidental – is so unmistakably her own it might as well be called Vowelling.

March 18, 2011

Laugh Lines: Mike Sacks’s Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason 1


Do you perform yoga in parks? Do you carry an NPR Fresh Air tote bag? If you don’t mind getting made fun of, Your Wildest Dreams, Within Reason is for you.

March 16, 2011

Unlikely Connections: Chris Kraus’s Where Art Belongs 1


Chris Kraus’s nuanced approach is akin to a cultural anthropologist who considers creativity in its natural habitats, the spaces where art comes into being

March 11, 2011

Cultic with a Chance of Rain: The Novel and Cults and Novels about Cults 3


While The Gospel of Anarchy and Big Machine portray cult largely as madness – albeit a seductive sort of madness – The Instructions and The Book of Dave render cult as that other thing it can be: the basis of a new religion.  All four invite reading, tongue-in-cheek, of sections of their text as scripture.  The Instructions, naturally, is entirely scripture.

March 10, 2011

Why Isn’t Our Children Learning? 11


Reading the “campus in crisis” study Academically Adrift is like being harangued over Thanksgiving dinner by your grumpy Uncle Fred. But just because he’s a long-winded old fogey doesn’t mean Uncle Fred is wrong.

March 7, 2011

For Sonny – With Love and Sympathy: Kenneth Slawenski’s J.D. Salinger: A Life 15


Before I say anything about Slawenski’s compelling but adoring biography of Salinger, I have a question: does anyone really, really understand just why Seymour Glass blows his brains out at the end of  “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”?

March 7, 2011

The Memory That Never Was: Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking With Einstein 1


Given enough time, all science writing—no matter how casually or clinically it is presented—winds up being wrong. Likewise, any work of participatory journalism that finds the undertaking more interesting than the author is bound for obscurity.

March 3, 2011

From Sink Hole to Surface: Belle Boggs’ Mattaponi Queen 1


In Mattaponi Queen gallows humor proves necessary, and often one is unclear whether the light at the end of the tunnel signals the brilliance of the sun or a rapidly approaching train.

February 28, 2011

James M. Cain’s Serenade: Fate and Blindness 11


Maybe it’s just that I’m a sucker for Cain’s fast, lean, hit-the-ground-running story-telling — talk as straight and sharp as a machete blade and twice as likely to leave you sore, since Noir heroes never end well–but it’s also that the Noir hero sees so much, narrates and describes what he sees so meticulously, and yet fails to see the destruction that awaits him.

February 25, 2011

The Trouble Starts Early: Marcy Dermansky’s Bad Marie 3


Marie is the guilty pleasure personified, a trickster set loose on bourgeois morality and tact.