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    Entries in - Criticism (30)

    Thursday
    Jul142016

    Jonah Lehrer returns with 'A Book About Love.' Can it rescue his reputation?

    THE LOS ANGELES TIMES - 14 JULY 2016

    What do we want from the disgraced among us? Atonement, or at least an accounting, and perhaps some sense they’ve learned from their mistakes. No meticulous mea culpa is on offer from Jonah Lehrer in “A Book About Love,” his first title since the last was hurriedly withdrawn. Instead of an apology, in a cunning move Lehrer has written a new book that purports to be about love — but is ultimately a reflection on the inevitability of failure.

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    Thursday
    Jun022016

    Bob Shacochis travels the world in 'Kingdoms in the Air,' but doesn't always enjoy it

    THE LOS ANGELES TIMES - 2 JUNE 2016

    Over more than 30 years, Bob Shacochis has gained a reputation as a swashbuckling, fish-catching man’s man capable of a certain kind of rugged reportage for Outside, Harper’s and other magazines.

    Not as widely known as big-hearted Bill Bryson, wandering Paul Theroux or the ravenous Anthony Bourdain, longtime author Shacochis is something of a writer’s travel writer. He teaches at Florida State and has won awards for his fiction – “The Woman Who Lost Her Soul” won the 2014 Dayton Literary Peace Prize — and so his latest book of essays, “Kingdoms in the Air,” could serve as a kind of career-defining collection of magazine writing from 1989 to today. It starts powerfully enough in Kathmandu in the spring of 2001.

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    Monday
    Dec212015

    Self and concept collide in experimental collection 'When the Sick Rule the World'

    THE LOS ANGELES TIMES - 27 DECEMBER 2015

    Stunned, the animals obey." This is an early line from "Whistle While You Dixie," the opening piece in Dodie Bellamy's "When the Sick Rule the World." It's emblematic of Bellamy's ability to overturn expectations with language that is by turns hilarious and sometimes almost cruel.

    In Bellamy's view, the animals in the animated film "Snow White" do as the title character bids but incorrectly: "Even though Disney has given some of the animals opposable thumbs," she writes, "… [a] deer licks dinner plates, and a squirrel dries them with its whirling tail. … [T]he Seven Dwarfs are real slobs."

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    Friday
    Jul182014

    In 'The New Arabs,' millennials are key to remade Middle East

    THE LOS ANGELES TIMES - 18 JULY 2014

    It's winter 2011, and I am living in Istanbul. I wander old streets in Turkey's cultural capital, past thousand-year-old mosques that were once churches, trying to understand the place that has become my home. Streets day and night are thronged by young Turks, flush from a thriving economy, in a country emerging as a new power 100 years after the Ottoman Empire fell apart. Across a swath of 20 or so countries, from Morocco to Iran, the area we think of as the Middle East seems tense but quiet.

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    Saturday
    May172014

    Reading These 5 Writers Will Make You a Better Person 

    HUFFINGTON POST - 16 MAY 2014

    Peter Matthiessen

    In Saudi Arabia, I was still trying to make sense of the insane thing I'd done in America. Which was to quit a perfectly good job at Rolling Stone, pack a bag, and walk from New York City to New Orleans. My wife and I had given that Louisiana city a try, staying for a few months in a rambling shotgun house by the race track, drinking and eating and walking around, but in the end it had made sense, I suppose, to move to Riyadh, capital of the world's most Islamic country, itself a custodian of the religion's two holiest sites. 10 thousand miles from anything I knew well, I'd wander the dirt paths of the sprawling compound we called home, dark and windy on the city's western edge, and I felt as disconnected as I ever had been before. I was trying to be a good husband. And an American. And soon enough, I'd be a dad.

    The book that resonated with me most then was Snow Leopard, the late Peter Matthiessen legendary account of trekking through the Himalayas to find the reclusive cat. More than a record of physical hardship, the book is a long mediation on pain and suffering and perseverance. Why do we do hard things? It's not just about the steps he takes through the snow, but about all the moves he's made in his life up to that point -- the choices big and small that found him alone, away from his children and with a dying wife, trekking in search of something that didn't want to be found. The copy I had was a friend's, illegally photocopied in some stall in Nepal. The cover was fraying but the writing inside was gorgeous, subtle, and much better than anything I could do. I still haven't written about that walk to New Orleans. But when I do, a copy of that book will be on my shelf.

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    Thursday
    May012014

    6 Books That Helped Nathan Deuel Make Sense of War and Exile 

    FLAVORWIRE - 15 MAY 2014

    BY JASON DIAMOND

    Since he does a much better job explaining it than we would, we’ll just preface his piece by saying that Nathan Deuel’s Friday Was the Bomb is one of the most fascinating accounts we’ve read of an American in the Middle East during the last tumultuous decade. During his time abroad, Deuel not only wrote about his experiences, but also did a lot of reading. Below, the author tells us, in his own words, about the books that helped him make meaning out of his years of exile.

    In December 2011, I moved to Beirut with my wife — a foreign correspondent — and our two year-old daughter. We were coming off a few hard years, first in Riyadh, the fearsome capital of Saudi Arabia, where we’d dodged the religious police and had a little girl. Then Kelly got a job in Iraq, so I moved with our diaper-clad daughter to Istanbul. Spend a few days in Turkey’s capital and I admit, it will blow your mind. Move there in the wake of your dad’s abrupt death from cancer, with your daughter — while your wife dodges mortars in Baghdad — and you might find yourself, as I did, smothered as much by the demands of fatherhood as by an impenetrable language, a society trending toward the darker sides of nationalism, and a flood of new money.

    So after three years, when we got the go-ahead to move to beautiful, broken Beirut — with its beaches and wine and convivial crew of fellow correspondents, many of whom had children — it felt like everything was coming together. We rented an airy, light-filled apartment, bought a bunch of plants, and thought about hosting a party. But the uprising in neighboring Syria was turning into all-out war.

    Kelly worked long hours and we did our best but as friends or colleagues died and a car bomb exploded and then a seven-hour shoot-out rocked and rolled right outside our bedroom windows, I began to lose focus. What was the point? How to be a parent beside this? A husband? What about the fact we were Americans?

    Seeking guidance, or at least the half-shine of potential answers, I turned to books. From Graham Greene to Shiva Naipaul, from Leigh Newman to Nick Flynn, I found various blueprints for how to think about the horror around me and how to turn a time of often indescribable cruelty into something meaningful — or at least semi-comprehensible.

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    Saturday
    Mar222014

    A Life in Our Hands: Community, Crime, and Punishment - On Jesse Ball's 'Silence Once Begun'

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 22 MARCH 2014

    IN AND AROUND the Japanese fishing village of Sakai, in Osaka prefecture, a community’s elderly citizens are disappearing without a trace. Years later, after the community has tried and jailed (and worse) a man who confessed to the apparent crimes, a journalist named Jesse Ball sets out to write a book about what actually happened.

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    Wednesday
    Feb122014

    Ye Who Enter, Abandon Hope: Hell Is a Hospital in Lore Segal's "Half the Kingdom"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 12 FEBRUARY 2014

    WE’LL ALL SOME DAY be crooked and shrunken, bent before the mercy of the medical system. Into a hospital, each of us will bring our own pains, weaknesses, history, and fate. The ER doesn't care how we measure beauty. We get a chart. There are certain hours we can be visited, and certain things we can expect from the people who are supposed to care.

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    Thursday
    Dec192013

    Even More Recent History

    AMERICAN CIRCUS - 18 DECEMBER 2013

    1.

    Choire Sicha was one of the first editors at spit-balling rabble-rouser Gawker, and he later logged time at the genteel but influential New York Observer when that pink broadsheet was an incubator for talent now found across publishing's various august mastheads. In more recent years, he's made a new name as founder of The Awl, a curious but widely admired online magazine. Such is his and The Awl's influence, however, that when the editor of The New York Times Magazine stepped down one morning this November, it was Sicha who by 9 a.m. had assembled a list of suggested replacements, including novelist Renata Adler and Times India correspondent Ellen Barry. Unspoken but acknowledged, as media watchers admiringly linked to Sicha's list: some day, perhaps if a smart move was made by leadership, the new editor could be Sicha himself.

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    Thursday
    Dec122013

    Reality Strikes: Mark Haskell Smith's "Raw"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 11 DECEMBER 2013

    SEPP GREGORY HAS GREAT ABS. He was a beach volleyball player, then a player on a reality TV show, and then has his heart was broken by a bronzed co-star named Roxy, whose diet required lots of tequila and sex. During a follow-up TV series, shown around the country, Sepp recovered and fell for a doctor, but she, too, broke his heart. Now he's on tour for his autobiography,Total Reality. Adoring fans, mostly women, form lines at bookstores in Seattle, Los Angeles, and Phoenix. They want to see rippling stomach muscles. Some offer sex. But he can't get it up. And there's another problem. Sepp didn't write the book. (And someone's going to die.)

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    Thursday
    Nov282013

    A Former Soviet Union: Elliott Holt's "You Are One of Them"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 7 OCTOBER 2013

    IT'S THE SEASON of the expatriate. Caleb Crain's Necessary Errors concerns the city of Prague, and Elliot Holt's fast, electrifying debut, You Are One of Them, takes us to Russia. Her book is as convincing and absorbing a portrait of post-Soviet Russia as you'll read. But at its heart, it's also about America.

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    Sunday
    Nov102013

    Daniel Alarcón's Haunting Political Fiction

    THE NEW REPUBLIC - 9 NOVEMBER 2013

    The Peruvian-born novelist Daniel Alarcón has become one of the most important modern voices for the countries south of the border. His first major book was the ambitious novel Lost City Radio (2007), a haunting tale set in an unnamed South or Central American country, where a talk show host uses on-air time to broadcast the names of those who have mysteriously “disappeared.” But that first novel had the airless precision of an experiment. Something about the life and trials of its characters felt brittle and incomplete, the anonymity of its setting eerily cold. It was torn between being a keen sketch of political turmoil and a broad historical fable.

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    Thursday
    Oct242013

    Beached

    THE PARIS REVIEW - 24 OCTOBER 2013

    There is something brutal about Phillip Glass’s opera. The way it stops and starts, the taunting tease of a story, then the way it’s anything but narrative. Composed of nine twenty-minute scenes, the whole of Einstein on the Beach—first produced in 1976 and shown in L.A. for the first time this month—is interspersed by five so-called “knee plays,” in which two women sit or stand or writhe around on plastic platforms, or search dreamily inside gently moving glass boxes. It’s not easy to watch.

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    Tuesday
    Oct082013

    Total Eclipse of the Bar: Nathan Deuel on ‘Turn Around Bright Eyes’

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 7 OCTOBER 2013

    IN THE UNITED STATES, the magic happens in a bar, or — and this is the pro move — in private rooms rented by the hour: “The electric frazzle in the voices, the crackle of the microphones, the smell of sweat, mildew, vodka, and pheromones — [that’s] the full karaoke experience,” writes Rob Sheffield, in his devastatingly smart and heartfelt new book, Turn Around Bright Eyes: The Rituals of Love and Karaoke. What’s more: “There’s a buzzer on the wall you can press for more drinks.”

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    Monday
    Sep302013

    Rising Temperatures: On Maggie O'Farrell's "Instructions for a Heatwave"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 30 SEPTEMBER 2013

    "THE HEAT, THE HEAT." So begins the astonishing new novel by Northern Irish writer Maggie O'Farrell. Following one sprawling family over four days of searing temperatures in 1976 London, Instructions for a Heatwave – O'Farrell's sixth novel – is perhaps a perfect book.

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    Saturday
    Jun082013

    How to Succeed — in a Van, and Otherwise

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 8 JUNE 2013

    IN THE EARLY 2000s, an otherwise unremarkable student named Ken Ilgunas was half-heartedly working as a Home Depot clerk and attending class in upstate New York. He floated through life, playing video games, racking up debt. Then, one day, his mom said they needed to talk. About money:

    I was soon going to enter the real world with an unmarketable degree (a B.A. in history and English) and because I had absolutely no idea how I was going to pay it off, the debt, to me, was more than a mere dollar amount. It was a life sentence. And soon enough, I'd be behind the bars of the great American debtor's prison, alongside the other 36 million Americans.

    Awakened to what would grow to be a $32,000 yoke — and his rank among those other strapped millions — Ilgunas begins to have dark thoughts, including the stirring image of his lifeless body, tied by his neck to the Christmas train, circling the lumberyard, where he earned a minimum wage.

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    Saturday
    May112013

    Finding Words For What Is Horrible: Nathan Deuel on Aleksandar Hemon's "The Book of My Lives"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 11 MAY 2013

    "I WAS A NIHILIST," writes Aleksander Hemon, "and lived with my parents. I even started thinking up an Anthology of Irrelevant Poetry, sensing that it was my only hope of ever getting anthologized." He adds, "Nothing came of it, although there was a world of irrelevant poetry everywhere around us. There was nothing to do, and we were running out of ways to do it." Hemon's slim new collection of essays, The Book of My Lives, elicits admiration and joy, and we forgive the expat any moments of arrogance or cruelty because, though his youth in Sarajevo might be said to have been peculiarly comfortable, it also obscured a growing avalanche of darkness.

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    Thursday
    Apr112013

    Fear is Fun: Nathaniel Rich's "Odds Against Tomorrow"

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 11 APRIL 2013

    A COLLEGE CLASSROOM STRUGGLES to focus on a lecture as, behind the tweed shoulders of the professor, an overhead projector streams live TV news, with images unspooling of Seattle disappearing: roads buckling, the Space Needle toppling, and amidst this chaos and destruction we meet Mitchell Zukor, math whiz. “The reporter’s voice was loud and hoarse in the speakers. We saw incoherent flashes of flame, glass, metal, sea. No one spoke. We were trying to understand what we were watching.”

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    Wednesday
    Mar132013

    A review of 'Public Apology,' by Dave Bry

    BOOKFORUM - 13 MARCH 2013

    Dave Bry is sorry. For several years, mostly for the New York website The Awl, he's reached back into a sordid, New Jersey/New York past, unearthing misdeeds big and small. If you imagined each of these stories as a moral sustenance, Bry has for years now been serving up dark and funny snacks. Assembled rather expertly for his book Public Apology, they now qualify as something more satisfying, like a turkey dinner on how (not) to live.

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    Thursday
    Mar072013

    Getting Out of the Picture: On Being Nick Flynn, a Review of 'The Enactments'

    LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS - 7 MARCH 2013

    A SINGLE MOTHER in Massachusetts reads through her son’s notebook and shoots herself. Still grieving, the son ends up working in a Boston homeless shelter, where one day his alcoholic father seeks refuge. The father is a bad drunk, as many are, and after a while the clinic votes to bar his reentry. The father spends his first night on the streets, sleeping on exhaust vents behind a library. During the vote that sent him outside, the son either does or does not raise his hand. Then the son writes an entire book about his mom’s suicide and the booze and the homeless shelter and that vote. The writer later stands onstage with the likes of James Frey, and this man, Nick Flynn, makes Frey’s semi-real book about semi-real addiction pretty much disintegrate into oblivion by comparison. Flynn leaves Boston and marries and has a daughter, and his father eventually makes it into a subsidized apartment and then to a hospice and then gets to meet Robert De Niro, who will be playing him in a movie about his son’s book. It’s all Nick Flynn’s doing and the result is Flynn’s third memoir, The Reenactments, a poetic and probing diary of writing, memory, and filmmaking.

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