Thursday, January 14, 2016

The Tournament of Books is Here!


It's the most wonderful time of the year! The announcement of the short list for this year's ToB! This year's tournament has 17 books (I explained the play-in round to Darrell and he was cracking up.) and I've only read one of them! But, since I have the quarter off of grad school, I feel pretty sure I can get through a good number of them before March. And, even better, so many of the books sound interesting and I'm looking forward to reading them. And, in a fit of fantastic planning on my part, I hoarded all my gift cards from students and was able to purchase a bunch of these the ones that we didn't have in the school library. (Although my librarians are awesome, and I bet they will order lots of these.)

Let's take a look at the field.

You and I have both read Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I was certain this would make the short list. It was just the big, buzzworthy book of the year. We've discussed this a lot already, so I'll just go ahead and say that I think it will be great for discussion.

In Progress
I downloaded The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz. We talked a bit back and forth about this one. Apparently this was only released as a digital book, and that first version was available on kindle for $4.99. But you discovered they had also published it as a hardback, and that version is $10.99 on Kindle. The world is a confusing place, Kelly. So far, I can't really figure out what makes it interesting as a digital only publication. It's weird. Might require some research on what the story is there. As for the actual story, it is told in alternating voices: Jim, who dies suddenly but is experiencing some sort of afterlife. And his wife, Jane, who is pretty upset that Jim contracted with some nutball group to cut off his head after his death in order to bring him back to life. So. Yeah. Interesting premise for sure.

Library, baby. 
I got two books from the school library. The Sellout by Paul Beatty and The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. I read the first page of each of them, and they are both first person narrators. I'm a little burned on that right now. So I'm going to wait on those for a while.

Amazon Prime
As a thank you for the Fates and Furies book talk, I got a $50 Amazon gift certificate! Perfect timing. I also had some other Amazon credit I had been hoarding. I ordered Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving and A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. My guess is that I'll read the Anne Tyler after The New World. Obviously the play-in round is first, and we're already in the middle of another John Irving. So maybe save Avenue of Mysteries until later in February? I really like Anne Tyler and read a bunch of her books in college and my early 20s. At some point, I stopped reading her, I remember feeling like she had a shtick and I was tired of it....but, I can't remember what that shtick was anymore. I hope it will feel like hanging out with an old friend! I also ordered The Invaders and Bats of the Republic, and I know nothing about either of them except for the descriptions on the ToB site. Finally, Oreo by Fran Ross. I am super interested in this one, and if I had to make a prediction from the long list, I was hoping this one made it in. I have a feeling this will be pretty high up in the batting order, too.

My local independent bookstore
I had a $100 gift card left, and I really wanted to support my local independent bookstore. I went there this afternoon with the plan of just getting whatever I could find on the list. And they had Our Souls at Night, The Story of my Teeth, The Tsar of Love and Techno and The Book of Aron. Can we talk about how freaked out I am by the cover of The Story of my Teeth? Teeth freak me out. I'm worried about that one. But, look at this interesting bookmark that was inside of it! I guess that should inspire me to read more literature in translation. The only recent read that I can think of that qualifies is the Ferrante quartet I just finished.

And because I just spent the whole day at that superbooktalk, I also got The Wrath and the Dawn, a retelling of the Shahrazad story for a YA audience. I'm lucky I got away with only one non-ToB purchase. Bookstores=danger.

Already Own It and Dreading It
A Little Life. Obviously.

Coming out in Paperback 
Both The Whites and The Turner House come out in paperback by early March. I can wait for that.

Beg or Borrow
Ban en Banlieue. I just couldn't get the Powell's site to load. I'll figure out how to get it from someone.

Is that all 17? What about you? Any sound interesting? Any audiobook insights?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Joint Book 1.15: The World According to Garp

Dear Jenny,

Earlier this year, as we were bemoaning a few WMFuNs we had read, we got to talking about The World According to Garp and that it's a WMFuN but that we remember loving it so much. And we wondered if it would hold up for us, since we both read it when we were younger (you said it was high school for you, I read it the summer after my freshman year of college. So... 18 and under.)

So we decided to re-read it together this year as one of our joint reads and see if, in fact, it has held up.

Here's our reading/discussion schedule:
  • Jan 10: Chapters 1-3
  • Jan 19: Ch 4-10
  • Jan 31: Ch 11-19 (remainder of the book)
When I first read this book, I remember finishing it and thinking, "That was one of the best books I have every read." Instant favorite! Other than this one, I have had this experience with One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Great Gatsby. And, when I was very young, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. All of these books remain favorites for me today.

My copy (pictured here) is pretty cool -- it's a little 20 year anniversary hardcover published by The Modern Library in 1998. It's a fun "chubby" size -- the cover is not much bigger than a trade paperback, but the book itself is thick. And that photo on the front is a young John Irving with his "GARP" license plate. Ha! I spotted it about 10 years about ago at Powell's and snatched it up cause I thought it was cool. For the most part, I'm not a book "collector" but if I see a cool version of a favorite, I'm grabbing it.

While preparing for our read-along, I also looked for this book on Kindle (easier to transport and read on the go) but it's... not... available... on... Kindle. What?! Feels like a very long time since I last experienced that roadblock -- and it's especially odd when many other Irving books are available.

I also looked into the aBook but it has the absolute worst narrator! Seriously -- some terrible super-flat monotone. Ugh!

Sooo... it looks like I'm hauling my chubby little hardbound copy around with me this month. Oh well. At least it's for a book I love.


Friday, January 1, 2016

Our Books for 2016

This is our sixth year of committing to reading books from our To Be Read (TBR) piles and talking about them on this here blog. (Our lists from 2011-2015 can be found over in the sidebar.)

Last year, we picked four books to read and discuss at the same time. We enjoyed that, so we're doing it again. This year's joint selections were semi-random, but ended up being two re-reads (Garp and Beloved) and two "How have we missed these?" reads (Five Children and Housekeeping).
Here is the schedule for our shared reads:
  • January: The World According to Garp  by John Irving
  • April:  Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit
  • July: Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • December: Housekeeping  by Marilynne Robinson
Additionally, we each have each chosen 10 other books from our TBR piles all with copyright dates prior to 2015 (forcing us to dig deep on the shelf). Here are our complete lists for 2016... 

Jenny's Books
Here is a screen cap from Shelfari of the books Jenny has chosen:
(click to see that bigger)

In alphabetical order, they are:
    1. About a Mountain by John D'Agata
    2. Beloved by Toni Morrison (July)
    3. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
    4. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
    5. Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite & The Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz
    6. The Fall of Rome by Martha Southgate
    7. Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit (April)
    8. Housekeeping  by Marilynne Robinson (December)
    9. Master of the Senate by Robert Caro
    10. The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle of James Joyce's Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham
    11. Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
    12. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
    13. Transatlantic by Colum McCann
    14. The World According to Garp  by John Irving (January)
      Kelly's Books
      Here is a screen cap from Shelfari of the books Kelly has chosen:
      (click to see that bigger)

      In alphabetical order, they are:
      1. Beloved by Toni Morrison (July)
      2. Detroit: A Biography by Scott Martelle 
      3. F. Scott Fitzgerald On Writing by F. Scott Fitzgerald
      4. Five Children and It by Edith Nesbit (April)
      5. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
      6. Housekeeping  by Marilynne Robinson (December) 
      7. Life After Life by Jill McCorkle
      8. Lincoln on Leadership by Donald T. Phillips
      9. Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi 
      10. Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
      11. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer
      12. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
      13. Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton
      14. The World According to Garp  by John Irving (January)
      We each have a total of 14 books on our lists -- 12 for 12 months, plus two alternates, just in case we cannot stand a couple of them. Again, four of them are shared books that we will both read in our designated months, as noted above.

      As we finish them, we write about them here (Spoiler warning: we are spoiler-iffic with the spoilers) and then we cross 'em off of this list by linking to our reviews/reports.

      Credit where it's due: We originally started this project in 2011 by participating in the TBR challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader -- Adam is no longer hosting these challenges, but we still thank him for inspiring us to start this thing up.

      Here's to 2016!

      Thursday, December 31, 2015

      Kelly's TBP 2.15: Prom

      Dear Jenny,
      I finished this book back in February and I procrastinated on publishing this. Then the artist passed away in May and I thought, "I should just write this thing up!" And then... more time passed. But it's been sitting in our Drafts folder for 10 months, so hey -- let's finish it.

      I cannot remember where I first read about this book, but I basically saw a review and did not hesitate to order it straight from Amazon. I have no idea why I was so immediately drawn to it, but I sure was.

      Here's the book description:
      Using a Polaroid 20x24 Land camera, photographer Mary Ellen Mark traveled across the US from 2006-2009, photographing prom-goers at thirteen schools from New York City to Charlottesville, Virginia, to Houston to Los Angeles. Mark’s husband, Martin Bell, collaborated with her on the project to produce and direct a film, also called Prom, featuring interviews with the students about their lives, dreams, and hopes for the future. A DVD of the film is packaged with the book.
      I did go to prom, but I really don't remember it being a "huge deal" -- in fact, one year I wore a Hawaiian print dress that I had gotten on sale the previous year for $20. So, you know... it wasn't like my "big dream." But... I do really like to see kids dressed up for prom. I don't know why, but it's a thing I enjoy.
      So... about this book. Well, the photographs are terrific. A really broad range of kids from all walks of life. And that Polaroid 20x24 Land camera produces some amazing quality photos. 

      So that's great. But then... I had some problems with the actual structure of this book that took away from my reading experience.

      Basically, every page features a photo and I found myself really wanting to know more about these kids. A few of them had quotes interspersed with the photos, but not all of them. So I wanted more of that. But then, I realized that there were more quotes... in the back of the book. Weird. So I had the uncomfortable experience of flipping back and forth between the photographs and the back of the book to see what the quotes were. Not so great.

      And then sometimes, that was just a waste of time because... not all of the kids had quotes! So I'd flip to the back of the book to find just their names, the school, and the year, which was already on the page itself. I honestly have no idea why the author (editor? publisher? Not sure how much power the artist/author has in this kind of book) decided to lay this book out like this. It was like flipping back and forth for footnotes with a giant, unwieldy book (only to discover most of the time that... there was no footnote there!) Sooo... not fun.

      I went online to look the artist up and I found... that this entire book is available at her website. And if you go to the "Plate List," you will see a list of all of the quotes, next to the photographs that they match. So, you know... a better reading experience for free on her website. I mean, I know that the paper reproduction of the photos are better than what is on her site, but still -- it just seems so strange to me that she is offering the same thing I paid for on her site for free.

      However, I will say this -- what you don't get on the site is some of the really great juxtapositions that the author put together in the physical book...

      Similar poses for dramatically different couples:
       Same couple/two poses:

      And just look at these cutie patooties:

      There was also a DVD included that was a sort of "behind the scenes" on the book itself. Like the book, you can also watch it online in its entirety. The film was fun -- I liked seeing some of the outfits in color and the kids interacting with one another was pretty adorable. Probably the highlight is this one kid from a family of dentists that they keep going back to -- he's got some hilarious lines about not wanting to be a dentist and the impact that the "family business" has had on him.

      If you're interested in seeing all of the photos for yourself, head over here. I'd start with the Plate List, because that's got all of the quotes with the thumbnails. You have to click on the thumbnails to see the larger photo and then go back to read the quotes... Hey! It does sort of mimic the difficult-to-navigate experience of reading the book itself!

      Final update on this post: I just scrolled through that Plate List page and remember a lot of the feelings I had when perusing this book. The kids' quotes are all over the map: funny, real, childish, and heartbreaking. It makes me wish (again) that the quotes were better incorporated into the book itself (and that every couple had a quote -- I'm wildly curious about the ones who did not say anything!)

      This one girl has stuck with me, as she had this heart-breaking thing to say:  "Me, I'm not going to college. I'm going to the military. It was just something I wanted to do since I was like a little girl, and also it's just to get away, you know what I'm saying? Have fun, travel, see the world." Man... that is not what I think of when I think of going into the military.

      I guess this seems like a negative review, and that's why I've been sitting on it for so long. I read something earlier this year that said that John Irving never writes a negative review. If he didn't like the book, he just... returns it. I kind of like that. But... this review wasn't meant to be all negative. I really did enjoy this work -- it just could have been better. That's all.

      Now -- go look at kids in their Prom attire. It's some good shit.


      That Supposedly Fun Thing We'll Never Do Again


      It's always a bit shocking when your low expectations are correct, right? I'll take the hit for picking this one. I guess I should learn to trust my instincts -- we knew all along that he wasn't for us. The only upside that I can think of: now, when I sneer derisively at DFW, I'll have earned it.

      This book is comprised of seven different essays. I'll just leave brief notes and quotes from our conversation under each title.

      Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley
      The conversation started with our agreement that DFW's writing is "pretentious, overwrought, douchebaggery." We agreed we really were not the target audience for this guy. We observed that if WMFuNs are their own genre, then DFW is their king. But then we felt sort of bad since things ended so badly for him personally.

      As for the essay itself, we weren't that impressed. We don't like tennis and didn't find all that much there to like. He's coy with some details and deliberately obtuse with others. What had the potential to be most interesting story --being carried away by a tornado and slammed into a fence?!?-- fails to be convincing as either truth or metaphor.

      We wondered if we were giving him a fair shot but, ultimately, we didn't care. We ended with a small hope in our hearts that things would get better with later essays. After all, this was probably one of the first things he'd ever published. It's going to get better, right?

      E Unibus Pluram: Television in U.S. Fiction

      We did some texting back and forth while reading this one.
      You started off our texting extravaganza with this observation.
      We knew we were in trouble.

      A threat he carries out for what, 50 pages?
      I checked this out from overdrive because I had to know: 17.
      He says *seventeen times* that Americans watch six hours of TV a day.
      If reading shit like this is the alternative, who wouldn't watch TV?!
      It's a problem.
      As we were discussing, we both said at the same time, "What was the point?" So many words. So many words.

      Getting Away from Already Being Pretty Much Away from It All
      We were both pleasantly surprised by this one. In it, DFW visits and reports from the Illinois state fair. His whole shtick seems to be "I'm a non-reporter doing reporter-y things!" But both of enjoyed this, even to the point where we laughed out loud. What a relief to find some redeeming qualities.

      This is the first time a female character of any kind really shows up, his friend that he takes along with him, and he refers to her as his Native Companion (also "Native C," "N. Companion," "NC," etc.) For the most part, she's the only character we really related to, as we both wished we could have been around to tell him to shut up and stop taking everything so seriously.

      However, we still had our issues. The continuance of his irritating regionalism. (We thought maybe we were especially tuned into this because of the book you recently read where the gross generalization is made that everyone in Portland "lives a minimum of three lives" -- as if they don't everywhere else.) We appreciated that DFW owned up to being a pretentious douche about his own East Coast snobbery. But as you said, "Once you recognize it, stop doing that thing." Alas. He kept doing it.

      Greatly Exaggerated
      The best thing we could say about Greatly Exaggerated is that it was 6 six pages long. Again, you said it best, "This pretentious douchebag just wrote a pretentious douchebag review of a pretentious douchebag PhD thesis." This essay made us actually think back to the tennis story fondly, which we basically ripped to shreds!

      We had a long discussion about what makes something readable or unreadable? Why is the State Fair one so readable, and Greatly Exaggerated is so NOT readable? We had a lot of ideas: the language he uses is not the language we use. You pointed out that it feels like Victorian literature. We couldn't quite figure out what we had missed: who decided that this qualifies as "good writing?" We also spent a lot of time talking about the fact that this guy has an audience (white guys, maybe younger than us) and since we aren't that audience, maybe that's why it just didn't work for us.

      We agreed that it was a good thing we only had 3 essays left. We were not happy to see how long they were. We agreed that we must solider on.

      David Lynch Keeps His Head
      The beginning was interesting and we both liked the vivid descriptions of David Lynch, but then it ran into the DFW problem: Why is this going on so long? You felt like this essay was the longest by far. In an episode of Gilmore Girls, Rory tells an author to cut her article by 400 words because she can't have the paper being "as long as a David Foster Wallace novel." And we couldn't agree more, he just goes on and on. What was the take away from this one? That David Lynch pees on trees. We think that might be all we remember.

      If these essays are arguments, what is the argument? I thought maybe it was just a think where his whole strategy for winning the argument by talking the other person to death. I also shared a metaphor. I said that reading DFW is like being stuck on an airplane next to a person who just loves the sound of his own voice.

      Some super long bullshit, bullshit title
      Even though this is the douchiest title, this was one we both enjoyed. The story of almost tennis pro Michael Joyce was interesting and DFW described the pro-circuit well.

      This is really where we started to have a lot of questions.

      Why is DFW as awkward as fuck with women? Every time he describes women, it's a little weird, stalker-y, or just plain bizarre. For example, both of us noticed that he described something as "menstrual pink." Wait. What?

      Why does he use all those silly abbreviations (for instance "w/r/t") but then go on and on with all the fifty cent words?

      Why did no one edit the hell out of him? I noticed that this essay was originally published in Esquire with the title "The Score." We wondered if the book we're reading is the equivalent of the Director's Cut. It seemed like we could cross check the book against the essay online. But, really, who has energy for that?

      A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again
      This was the best one, you thought. I agreed, but definitely had the "Oh God make it stop" feeling when he started listing what he did by the hour.  I definitely thought this one was the longest and admitted to doing some prodigious skimming in the last 35 pages.

      We discussed the role of the essayist here, since he makes the statement that "an essay's fundamental obligations are supposed to be to the reader." [288] I thought he did a shitty job of holding to this, instead always making it all about him. You pointed out that maybe the reader is a person just like him. And since that's not us, we're always going to feel annoyed by him, regardless of the moments of interest, humor, or insight.

      Basically, this one was the most funny and entertaining of the bunch. A good way to end, and we are just glad it's over.

      As a wrap-up, we noticed that all of our "shared" books this year were disappointing! How did we end up choosing a bunch of WMFuNs?! We vowed to do better next year.

      And with that, we're calling it a wrap on 2015.

      Completed: From Girls to Grrrlz : A History of Women's Comics from Teens to Zines

      Dear Jenny,

      For the most part, this was a fun read. It's not really about women in comics, as much as "women's comics" (which it does say right in the subtitle) -- that is, comics written specifically for women (or girls). So it was more positive that I was concerned it would be (a book about women in comics would be... sort of depressing, right?)

      It was divided into four general sections, so I'll just walk on through 'em here.

      Girls' Comics 1941-1957

      So we start in the 1940s with "Girls'" comics (aka "Teen" comics) which began with Archie comics being a sort of  "everyman" answer to Superman. And while Betty and Veronica's worlds mostly revolved around Archie's (although they also had their own books later), there were several other titles during those years that featured girls as the primary characters, mostly along the same "teen" lines.

      The depressing part is that women in comics in 1945 were dealing with the Same. Damned. Issues. that we are dealing with today, 70 (!) years later:

      (The girls that Patsy has gotten to join her turn on her and eventually Patsy admits defeat and puts her skirt back on. Sigh.)

      Women's Comics 1947-1977

      I think this section could have been subdivided -- 30 years is a lot of time to lump together under the title "Women's Comics," especially when a large portion of these comics were along the line of Josie and the Pussy Cats and Sabrina the Teen-age Witch, which were the natural evolution of the Archie-style teens and, while they had a bit of a more independent edge, the primary audience was still teenagers.

      Some of the other comics in this section were directed at an older audience, but, like Harlequin Romances, I'm sure there were a fair number of teens who got their hands on these. There was this whole "True Romance" genre -- basically soap operas in comic form (imagine the backs of many hands applied to many foreheads and you've got it).

      In the later part of this long-spanning era, we also get some "career" gals -- nurses, flight attendants (at that time... stewardesses), reporters (remember Brenda Starr?), etc. Check out Linda Carter, Student Nurse, over there (pre-dating the Lynda Carter we now associate with another comic book character!)

      And the 70s brought... flower children. (Check MODniks: "A drop-out digs where it's smart to be in -- school!")

      Honestly, I think calling these "women's" comics might be a stretch... depending on how you refer to teenagers. I guess the idea here is that the topics and the characters are more "grown up" than the girls in Archie's time, but I would also argue that each generation's teenagers are more grown up that the last.

      Womyn's Comix: 1970-1989

      Even though ol' Patsy up there was trying to "liberate all womankind" back in 1945, the 70s were a time when this concept became more mainstream and women's (or "Womyn's") comics reflected that. Robbins herself became active in writing comics during the 70s, so she's got a lot of opinions about this time period.

      I wrote some more here but could not wrap it up succinctly, so I deleted it and I will share my personal experience with one of the "comix" mentioned in this section...

      One of the first comics I got completely hooked on was Dykes to Watch Out For. I checked out every single anthology -- and bought the ones that were not available at the library -- and burned through those books over the course of several weeks in the fall of 2001. Alison Bechtel is hilarious and made me cry laughing -- look at this still! (Everything is hilarious about this -- even the CAT is funny!)

      It's worth noting here that  Betty and Veronica were also still going strong in the 1980s, but there were also quite a few other actual real "women's" comics being written during that time (that is, comics for adult women) and many more comics being written by women than at any previous time.

      Grrrrlz Comix: The 1990s

      I  also remember reading a lot of these comics in the early 2000s. One of my all-time favorites, Strangers is Paradise, gets a shout-out in this section, as well as Art Babe by genius Jessica Abel.

      I'm not sure I have a lot to add here -- you can kind of guess the trajectory of the comics, as they followed the rest of the culture at that time -- grunge, "riot grrrls," etc. (I'm sorry -- I'm flaming out here with this "review"-- laugh at this comic and pretend that this post is not a trainwreck...)
      (Click to see it bigger.)

      In conclusion (dare I even say that?)

      Overall, the writing in this book was decent and well-researched -- Robbins has a lot of opinions and they certainly show through, but since I generally agreed with her, that was fine with me (and sometimes made me laugh out loud).

      There was a strange typographical choice where all comic titles were larger font that the rest of the writing and, as Robbins got more opinionated, she started using a different larger font for CAPITAL LETTER emphasis and that was kind of jarring. I guess my issue with the opinions and the typographic choices is that they help relegate this book to a "fun" read when it could have taken an opportunity to shine a more serious light on the topic. But... it's okay. They're comics, right?

      Aaaand... done!
      (Yes, yes... skidding into the very end of the year... per usual!)


      Wednesday, December 23, 2015

      Completed: White Girls


      Being somewhat pressed for time, I didn't write a preview post of this one. But I got this book as a gift from my friend Jannah when it came out a few years ago.

      I'm also totally tired and probably not going to do this book much justice, which is too bad. Here's the thing that's especially ironic about me saving this one for last: it's a book of essays, weaving together a look at how the individual life of the author (he's the theater critic for the New Yorker) is shaped and informed by pop culture.

      In other words, it's impossible for me not to read this as a companion to our current David Foster Wallace situation. In fact, White Girls  was blurbed by John Jeremiah Sullivan, who I mentioned the first time we talked about DFW. I said that JJS was an example of an essayist I really enjoyed, a guy who was genuinely interested in his work rather than just a smug East Coast asshole. In his blurb, he says that Als is working in the genre of "culture-crit-as-autobiography" and that is exactly right. Als is gathering up his observations about film, theater, books and thinking about how it intersects with his life; DFW is arguably doing the same thing.

      But here's the thing: Als' book is better in every. single. fucking. way.

      It's clear and incisive without being overwritten. It's arguments are cogent and fierce instead of meandering and boring. It's interesting and smart without with smarmy and self-satisfied. It looks at people of all kinds-- gay, straight, men, women, people of color, old, young, urban, rural North, South---instead of just focusing on the insular view of a particular kind of smug white man. In fact, Als' personal lens is consciously and explicitly that of the outsider: gay and black in America. Like Ta-Nehisi Coates, he's not interested in sugar-coating his writing for a white audience. But I do love how he constantly shifts his lens as he examines the world around him: gay, black, male, New Yorker, younger, older, critic, fan. He's one of those writers who just thinks about the world in an interesting, dynamic way. He strikes me as the kind of person I would want to be my friend--and the fact that he has such a generous, curious spirit would totally make up for the fact that he's way smarter than I am. Like, I know he'd be slumming it a little with me, but it'd be worth it to hang out with someone that funny and smart. I'd totally be his Native Companion, know what I mean?

      The essays themselves cover a variety of topics, and even if I don't know much about the topics, Als writing makes me more interested in the topic, not less. There are essays here about Truman Capote, Flannery O'Conner, and Eminem; there are essays about his life-long best friend and about his inability to write about his own mother. I would fiercely agree with him on one page, be amazed at his ability to capture something true about life I'd never noticed on another, and sort of pissed off and thinking he's totally wrong on yet another. In other words, his arguments are actually argumentative! Even more astounding, his arguments and ideas are easily followed and clearly laid out. WHAT A CONCEPT!

      My one real regret is that I wish I wasn't reading it this way. I'm just sort of burning through it all, wanting to hit my deadline. And I also wish I wasn't doing Als the disservice of comparing him to that jackass DFW.

      All I can do, really is quote some Eminem lyrics that Als quotes when talking about Eminem's self-awareness of his own status as a white rapper:

      Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself, if they were brown, Shady lose, Shade sits on the shelf, but Shady's cute, Shady knew, Shady's dimples would help, make ladies swoon baby, ooh, baby, look at my sales, let's do the math, if I was black, I would have sold half. 

      One thing that this has made me pledge: to no longer skip his stuff in the New Yorker. I don't usually read his pieces because it's weird for me to read reviews of stuff I haven't seen or can't see---Although this is silly, because I read book reviews of books I haven't read all the time. Either way, now I realize I've been missing a great thinker and am going to try to do better.

      To Hilton Als! An essayist that doesn't drive me to drink!