Thursday, June 30, 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

The Adventures of Augie MarchThe Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

Possibly I am a philistine but I read 20 percent of this one and I am putting it down. It has no plot! The sort of this-then-this-then-this picaresque is an intentional structure, I know, but that doesn't make it much more fun to read. The milieu of hardscrabble Great Depression Chicago is certainly appealing but this work isn't for me, not right now at least.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Best nonfiction

I always enjoy lists and I am a major fan of some of the books on the Guardian's "100 greatest non-fiction books" list -- Nabokov's Speak, Memory, Roland Barthes' Mythologies, Susan Sontag's On Camp. But like all non-bylined lists of this sort, it is also heavy on "important" doorstops like Critique of Pure Reason and Leviathan that are not really for actual reading by any actual human.

I prefer lists that don't pretend to take a view from nowhere. So just for fun and in no particular order here is a list of some of my own personal favorite nonfiction books. No claim that these are the best of all time or that this is comprehensive. But I liked them.

Robert Mentzer's Certified Finest Nonfiction Books:


Celine Dion's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson
A true investigation into what aesthetic taste is and how taste gets made. So smart and so honest and so useful. If it doesn't change the way you think about music and art, read it again.

Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century by Greil Marcus
Cultural history from French Situationism to punk rock.

Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang
Terrific, rigorous hip-hop history. Pitch-perfect until he hits the '90s!


The Big Short by Michael Lewis
The story of the financial collapse through the eyes of those who saw it coming.

Boss by Mike Royko
The greatest newspaper columnist of all time chronicles Richard J. Daley.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Working poor in practice.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Children by Philip Gourevitch
Terrible, terrible.

Them by Jon Ronson
Travels with crazies. Hilarious, sympathetic portraits of some very unsympathetic souls.


Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
Best memoir ever.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Does this count as nonfiction?

A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Not every essay in here is a winner -- "E Unibus Pluram: Television and American Fiction" is completely insufferable -- but the title essay is terrific, lots of fun and smart. The first essay "Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley," which is set in central Illinois, still makes me nostalgic for home.

Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Read this probably 15 years ago and I still remember its description of kitchen work and soup-kitchen hopping.

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel
Best oral history.

Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cape Town to Cairo by Paul Theroux
Travels in Africa and some worthwhile thoughts on the aid industrial complex.


Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
This was the most moving, most deeply felt piece of philosophical writing I read in college. Really great as a literary work and really great and influential as a piece of philosophy.

Illuminations by Walter Benjamin
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" doesn't hold up well at all but the essays are terrific and "Theses on the Philosophy of History" is basically a masterpiece.

What are your picks? Please add in comments!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Complaining about parenting is some sort of new trend

Hey I never got one of these:
Apparently, dadchelor parties are a thing. They’re pretty much like bachelor parties, except the person getting rowdy is about to be father, not a groom. A dude who recently attended one of these soirees called it a "farewell from the inner circle." They can also be called daddymoons and man-showers, and according to The Huffington Post, they’re becoming increasingly popular.
Actually that is a trend that I will believe when I see something other than some thinly sourced trend story about it, like for instance when I hear about one actual person doing it.

But here is a bona fide trend that really is sweeping the nation and with which I have actual first-hand experience: The trend of talking about this mock children's book Go the F--k to Sleep, which I certainly agree seems quite funny. People are posting it on Facebook, this Tom Scocca piece in New York Magazine considers its deep meaning and so does this Slate Culture Gabfest and so on.

I am not sure if Go the F--k to Sleep represents anything in particular about our culture's changing attitudes about parenting itself, but I do feel like there is something going on right now where openly complaining about how hard it is to be a parent is some sort of new frontier in anti-PC taboo-breaking.

I think of the comedy of Louis C.K., like this famous -- and actually groundbreaking and completely hilarious -- bit about how his 4-year-old daughter is an asshole:

No less a mainstream comedic voice than Tina Fey recently got in on the action, too, explaining that toddlers are total d-bags.

Really it is not so different from Bill Cosby calling his kids "brain damaged" or whatever, but it seems like a) there is a sharper edge on it in all of these examples and b) we are just seeing more of this sort of thing in general.

I like that the culture is now able to express some of the frustrations of parenting, but I am less sure that something like Go the F--k to Sleep is shattering any actual taboo. Maybe there was once a time -- probably before two-working-parent households were the norm -- when the culture thought only unrealistic happy thoughts about parenting and expressing negative feelings was truly something that just wasn't done. But this is not that time. In fact I wonder if the pendulum hasn't swung a bit far in the other direction, to the point that it's now more socially acceptable to talk about the frustrations and difficulties of parenting and it's somehow lame to talk about its joys.