Showing posts from May, 2010

City of Ember

What is it called when you try to suspend disbelief, but whatever you're suspending it with just isn't strong enough, and disbelief keeps crashing down on your head? That was my feeling about Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember , especially the premise that the citizens of the City of Ember have, over the centuries, forgotten the secrets of electricity. Electric lights make the place work, and they know how to fix plumbing (or "pipeworks"), but they can't figure out electricity. Maybe I've watched too many home improvement shows, or maybe I just married a spouse whose astounding technical competency causes electrically powered machines to, apparently, fix themselves in his presence... whatever the reason, I just couldn't buy this one. And the ending is just the setup for the sequel, which always bugs me. Still, Lina and Doon are fine 12-year-old heroes. The best part is the opening, when Lina and Doon swap the jobs to which they are assigned, just aft

The Dud Avocado

Way back in 1958, long before Sex in the City, Elaine Dundy crafted a novel of a 21 year old woman's year abroad that perfectly captures the disorientation inherent in that neverending task of discovering oneself. (Fair warning: there are spoilers all through this, and if you don't want to know the ending, skip the marked sections below). This is a young adult story, not in the sense of "teenaged," but in the sense of early 20s self-discovery, the post-college years when anything seems possible but odds against the great stuff seem insurmountable. The protagonist, Sally Jay Gorce, has been funded by her Uncle Roger to spend a full 2 years abroad. Sally Jay (henceforth S.J.) is by turns profound and flippant, with the flippant winning out more often than not because of the dizzying speed with which she changes her mind. But that's the fun of this book, the sense of life and adventure that she narrates, sometimes by incisive observation and other times by bare

An Education

My mother is an Anglophile, and I grew up with a kind of baseline admiration for all things British as a result. English accents alone cause my ears to perk up expectantly, even when (as is so often the case) the content falls short of my expectations. Soldiers marching into soft boiled eggs, cucumber sandwiches, proper tea sets... these and other accoutrements were part of my childhood. Ben picked up a Nick Hornby directed movie for me, set in Britain, and the movie led me to Lynn Barber's memoir An Education , on which the film was based. It is the story of Barber's life from schoolgirl to unwitting mistress to an older man, on to read English at Oxford, and then to work at Penthouse (as a writer, not as a "Pet"). Others have criticized her writing for being abrupt, and it is. Barber herself is sympathetic at times, not likeable at others. The movie focuses extensively on her teen years and her involvement with a much older man, who was later discovered to be

teen humor

I love silly YA fiction... I always need a series at this time of year, and so it's the last 3 books of the Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging series by Rennison. Substance? Not really. Amusing fluff? Yes, for days! Highly engaging and distracting as Georgia Nicholson pals around with the Ace Gang and tries to decide between Luuurve Gods Robbie and Masimo while constantly being distracted by Dave the Laugh. It's the last book in the series now, #10, and obviously we all hope she comes to her senses and picks Dave the Laugh. We shall see. She doesn't grow up so much as just change tack on a kind of ridiculousness that, as her parents' shenanigans demonstrate, it's not really necessary to grow out of, and may in fact be more fun to maintain. Series recommended only if you're ready and able to put all seriousness (possibly even part of your brain) aside for the duration of the reading experience. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Quesn was a much bett

one more quote from Ehrenreich

before it has to go back to the library, from Bright-Sided, p. 56 "But in the world of positive thinking other people are not there to be nurtured or to provide unwelcome reality checks. They are there only to nourish, praise, and affirm. Harsh as this dictum sounds, many ordinary people adopt it as their creed, displaying wall plaques of bumper stickers showing the word "Whining" with a cancel sign through it. There seems to be a massive empathy deficit , which people respond to by withdrawing their own. No one has time or patience for anyone else's problems."


Barbara Ehrenreich's latest boo k indicts recent American tendencies toward "positive thinking" for its Calvinist roots, its Stalinist applications, and its utter lack of grounding in empirical evidence. Though Ehrenreich acknowledges the social utility and even intelligence of trying to get along with others, she suggests that relentless positive thinking in fact encourages people *not* to think of others, especially on a social level. If we're always tinkering with our own minds, trying to "attract" the right things or purge the "negative" people from our lives, how would anyone have time to change the society around them? Ehrenreich's thoughtful skepticism and suspicion of claims that seem too good to be true are a breath of fresh air in this post-subprime-mortgage collapse era. Ever since hearing the This American Life shows on the economy, I can't think of it as an "economic" collapse without thinking of the subprime mort