Tag Archives: Nonfiction

#fridayreads

In Chicago once more, the DBC team has many fall titles left to scale. Many of them will take us plain through to 2013. Here now are just a couple selections that we’ll be previewing shortly:

Both Flesh and Not: Essays by David Foster Wallace.

Little, Brown releases 15 never-before-anthologized essays by our most revered literary genius. The titular essay on Roger Federer is held up by fans alongside Infinite Jest as Wallace’s unparalleled masterpiece (something with which Kevin wholeheartedly agrees), and we’re particularly excited to read (and re-read) his dissection of Terminator 2, which we hope will cause the same unexpected stir of emotions that his 1996 essay on David Lynch and the film Lost Highway did. Though of course, because of whom we’re talking about, it will cause the unexpected either way.

 An End to All Things: Stories by Jared Yates Sexton.

It’s exciting when DBC’s Illinois-born-and-bred contingent can read a collection rooted entirely in the Midwest. Indiana, with its contrast between vast cornfields, a storied state university, and Gary’s industrial narrative, serves as a microcosm for America as a whole. These stories chronicle a town wracked with doubt as the collapsing economy closes in — written in presumed contrast to the book’s author, earner of an MFA who has the choice to be there or not be there. It’s a dangerous thing to trust just anyone with a Midwestern voice, so likely to accidentally condescend or misconstrue as they may be. But I trust Atticus Books, and doubt they’d put their faith in anything less than the real deal.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Karen Elliott House’s “On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines — And Future”

Ed. Note: This is a guest review from Greg Noth. 

Karen Elliott House’s new book, On Saudi Arabia, is a good introduction to the many contradictions, problems, and issues that confront Saudi Arabia today. It is the result of thirty years of research from living in the oil producing capital of the world. House, a former editor and foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, approaches her subject like one would expect a veteran journalist to—a method which has its strengths and weaknesses.

On the plus side, she uses fact after fact and interview after interview to support her case, and does a good job drawing reasonable conclusions from the information she has. On the slightly negative side, writing a book is not the same as writing a newspaper article: no one reads newspapers for pleasure. That’s not to say On Saudi Arabia reads just like a really long newspaper article, but the writing didn’t especially captivate me, and I think it has to do with the style of writing House built a successful career on.  Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Geoffrey Nunberg’s “Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years”

Intersections of the American public and its academy are too rare. This is for myriad reasons. College is expensive and exclusive. The individual research of professors—especially in the humanities—is too obscure to have much traction with the small share of Americans who actually read books. And perceptions of the ivory tower/elitism owe a good deal to that expense and exclusion and obscurity.

Geoffrey Nunberg isn’t exactly a household name—no academic is. But Nunberg is known, his writings on language appearing in The New York Times and other publications, his voice heard often on NPR’s Fresh Air. Of course, The Times and public radio have very specific audiences. But with that proviso in mind, it’s clear that Nunberg’s been able to branch out of academia more than his fellow linguists.

Enter Ascent of the A-Word: Assholism, the First Sixty Years, Nunberg’s charming and comprehensive study of the history, usage, and culture of the word asshole. If ever there were a word to unite Americans—academics, steelworkers, etc.—in 2012, it’d be asshole, for its common usage and what it evokes: our worries about our declining civility. But Nunberg’s work isn’t meant to sound the alarm about anonymous people being dicks in line at Cosi or pregnant women being forced to stand on public transportation. Rather, he’s more interested in its origins, rise, and definition.  Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

#fridayreads

Yesterday’s release of the Freeh Report investigating the actions of Penn State relating to Jerry Sandusky’s child abuse was greeted by predictably divisive voices. Some people are very upset by what they perceive to be an unbalanced power structure in Happy Valley that made it possible for such a potential coverup seem possible. Others—college football fans and PSU supporters/alumni—believe that the report goes a long way in exonerating Joe Paterno, showing that, if a coverup at all occurred, it was the work of the school’s athletic director, president, etc. Not Joe. These people are weirdos.

And they will likely buy Joe Posnanski’s forthcoming Paterno when it drops on August 21. I wrote about it a little bit in November of last year, and I’m pretty much sticking to that argument: if Posnanski chooses to write a defense of Paterno, he will lose some of his credibility (people already wince at him a little bit as it is). He tweeted last night about having aimed to write an “the most honest book” he could about Paterno. But it’s difficult to align that notion with his having written it before the Freeh Report, which contained some pretty damning information about Paterno and his colleagues at Penn State. If his book contains the how could Paterno know that Sandusky’s showering with a boy in 1998 was illicit since there was an investigation and no charges were filed and experts didn’t believe he fit the profile of a molester argument I’ve seen lately, then Posnanski should really brace for the worst possible reaction to all of this. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Kristen Iversen’s “Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats”

Kristen Iversen's "Full Body Burden"What do we love so much about that photograph of the V-J Day kiss in Times Square? Though it’s a celebratory moment of two people, which couldn’t possibly compare to the scale of what that day meant, we slap it on our walls and silk-screen it onto T-shirts. That sailor and that woman in white feel, in essence, like two characters we get to own in our personal knowledge of what happened. It is in fact because the significance of that day is boiled down to two distinct figures that we’re able to relate to it in this way. There’s a very particular reason why we connect to such primary sources. What are all the facts in the world without a narrative to string them together? How could we begin to empathize without a story?

These questions are inextricably linked to the experience of reading Kristen Iversen’s Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. This book is not an exposé, technically speaking, since Iversen draws from publicly accessible trial documents in her research on the history of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons production facility just outside the Denver area (and all unthinkably corrupt management of nuclear waste therein). But her interviews with the civilians, scientists, protestors, and lawyers involved, as well as interweaving her own personal narrative of a life beside the mysterious Rocky Flats, do for Full Body Burden what we need them to do: we need this book, in essence, to be a story, not just a compilation of 50 years of governmental cover-up and appalling disregard for the public health. People were dying—brain tumors the size of softballs, sixth-grade boys with eerily frequent incidents of testicular cancers, entire generations of malformed Colorado livestock—and until readers have a sense of the timeline, of the cast of characters, and of the sheer governmental negligence involved, we cannot know this chapter in our own country’s very recent history for what it really was. Iversen fully provides, in what must have been a difficult book not only to write, but to face.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

#fridayreads

Last night at Brookline Booksmith we saw Buzz Bissinger read from his new release, Father’s Day, a personal account of raising his developmentally challenged son. It was honest, sometimes uncomfortably so, particularly when he said point-blank that at some points throughout his son’s young life, he “just wanted to walk away.” This is a book I’m glad to see published; as one of the listeners pointed out during Q&A, you rarely see this type of parental account from the father’s perspective. We’ll have to add this one to our review roster.

Coming up much sooner, however, we’ll have a review of Jurgen Fauth’s Kino, an adventurous debut novel that melds the history of German film with modern-day Hollywood — a book that makes you want to read more books and watch many more movies.

We’ll also be telling you about the nonfiction peach Ozzie’s School of Management by Rick Morrissey, an investigation into the techniques of “baseball’s most colorful and irresponsible manager.” Colorful is a pretty diplomatic way of saying it. I expect that any direct quotes from Guillen himself will need to be censored by your DBC reviewers.

Tagged , , ,

Mathias B. Freese’s “This Mobius Strip of Ifs”

Mathias B. Freese's "This Mobius Strip of Ifs"It is perhaps likely that someone, somewhere, wishes to buy a book whose writer makes it clear on every page that they are more knowledgeable, more sage, more seasoned, and generally wiser than the reader.  I will be generous and say that there are bound to be readers out there who can heartily connect to material that lectures and condescends to them, readers who understand that they can only really identify with Writer The Almighty if they, too, hold an AARP card.  But I am not one of these readers. Simply put, I don’t have what it takes to read This Möbius Strip of Ifs by Mathias B. Freese.

Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Roya Hakakian’s “Assassins of the Turquoise Palace”

Lost in the election-year drudgery that is America’s current foreign policy discussion is a fact most won’t dispute: The Ali Khameini regime in Iran has been brutal at home and abroad, restricting human rights within its borders and supporting murders and assassinations around the world. While the right-wing saber-rattling has been nothing short of irresponsible and misguided, a naturally broad rebuttal against their IRAN IS ALL-POWERFUL AND BAD FOLKS argument leads to a denial of the total shittiness of Khameini and his clerical thugs, granting the terrible leaders of post-Shah Iran the clemency they don’t deserve. (And while we’re on the subject of who deserves what: the Iranian people don’t deserve Khameini, et al.)

In this context, Roya Hakakian’s Assassins of the Turquoise Palace is a great read, an example of the pathetically infantile pettiness carried by the Khomeini-Khameini regimes. Hakakian’s subject is an assassination in September 1992, the gunning down of four Iranian-Kurdish leaders at a Greek restaurant (Mykonos) in Berlin. At a meeting of opposition members, two “hulking, bearded figures” executed the killings with a chilling lack of precision, firing a silenced machine gun with little regard for who was and wasn’t hit. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

#fridayreads

We’re not dead. Or anything like that.

We’re just busy. We promise! We still think about blogging—all the time.

Anyways, we’ve got a lot coming around the bend.  A few reviews in April, more in May, and then a summer full of reading and lounging and sipping and writing. It’s going to be a good time.

Roya Hakakian’s Assassins of the Turquoise Palace
It’s not Hakakian’s fault that some blurbs compared Assassins to Truman Capote’s classic In Cold Blood. As one should expect, there is no comparison. Still, Hakakian’s story is memorable, well told, and makes an allegedly vast conspiracy—involving the state-sponsored targeted assassination of the Iranian-Kurdish (is that the right way to say it?) diaspora all over the world—sound downright plausible. It makes your heart point, but in a rational, measured sort of way. Review forthcoming.

Tagged , , , ,

B.J. Hollars’s “In Defense of Monsters”

B.J. Hollars's "In Defense of Monsters"The founders of Origami Zoo Press, publisher of B.J. Hollars’s latest collection of essays, state in no uncertain terms that they “want to exhibit absurdities of the world, whether it’s done by bending genres or simply illuminating the bizarre details of everyday life.” With the publication of In Defense of Monsters, a chapbook that mixes half-narrative-half-analytical essays with theses buoying the existence of Sasquatch and Nessie the Loch Ness Monster, Origami Zoo has found a way to exhibit every type of absurdity they could hope for. Hollars is unwavering in his convictions, and they’re not at all illegitimate ones. After all, he’s not arguing that the creatures of our modern folklore are necessarily right around the corner. Instead, his essays are each themselves a question: why not this? Why, if no definitive proof sways us to either side of the debate, do we opt for non-belief in lieu of what may very well be? In these 34 pages, we can defend what ultimately might be less impossible than we think.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , ,