Archive for Book Reviews

Joe Queenan

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on September 3, 2008 by thebibliophile

Before reading this review by Joe Queenan in the New York Times I wasn’t familiar with him – or his feud with author A.J. Jacobs – or his reputation for being as wikipedia says, “mean-spirited and gratuitous.” According to Josh Karp of Salon, reviewing the book Red Lobster, White Trash, Blue Lagoon, Queenan is a “well-paid bastard,” and not to be outdone, Queenan calls himself a “full-time son of a bitch.”  Nevertheless, this review in the Sunday NY Times “had me at hello.”

I’ll have to do more research to really gauge how shameful I should feel about really liking this review – the writing style, the biting just-get-to-the chase criticisms, and the way each piece is dissected (with evidence given) and the author of the book’s own style appropriated for Queenan’s critique.

Check it out:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/31/books/review/Queenan-t.html?ref=review&pagewanted=all 

For more on Queenan:

http://archive.salon.com/people/conv/2001/07/13/queenan/index.html

What I appreciate about this Queenan interview is that he points out that all the Rocky films were “racist fantasies.” Check. That many baby boomers believe that they ended racism – not sure I go all the way in on that, but I do notice, especially now that we’re about to elect Obama that there’s an assumption that somehow racism is over. 

I like that Queenan is unapologetically himself. Standing firm on his convictions, without any apologies, nothing nice, diplomatic or flowery. It is almost nearly the complete opposite of what I do when I write. I often take the fuzzy middle ground, taking pains to try to balance good and bad critique. To me, that’s being intellectually honest, as Queenan calls it, because I am trying to be as objective as possible. Perhaps that’s not the job of the social critic or reviewer. Queenan shows me that sometimes you just have to let it rip.

So as practice, I think I’ll take a book I read or trend I’ve noticed recently, and write an absolutely true to my opinion, without any attempt to be objective, review. Twiddling thumbs….what shall I choose….I’m thinking:

1. Mary by Janis Cooke Newman

2. I think I may have done this already with Golden Road

3. Hipsters

4. The blog and now recently released book Stuff White People Like

5. Neo-Black TripSoul Hipsters with a love of social justice and the spotlight — ooh topic may be found….

The Gold Standard: Race and Gender in Memoir Reading The Golden Road: Notes on My Gentrification by Caille Millner

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on January 1, 2008 by thebibliophile

I immediately wanted to read The Golden Road, sensing it would bare similarities to my experiences as a person of color in predominantly white schools. I am slightly disappointed by the memoir. Having lived a similar experience, I felt certain aspects of the narrative were not fully examined. We learn most of the “truths” in the memoir because Millner tells them to us, not because we’re shown. And because most of the reviews seem to be wriiten by people of color who didn’t attend independent schools in the ’90s or are white, they don’t understand the nuances in the same way. One reviewer described Millner as a “participant observer,” but that’s also a way to suggest Millner hasn’t been an active heroine in her own life.Millner’s story is a bildungsroman; that is what makes it interesting. What Millner captures, most realistically is the social isolation, confusion, neuroticism, and inauthenticity of middle-class life in the ’90s.Millner does position herself as the participant observer, as opposed to the full center of a self-created universe. Her own story of confusion is more interesting to me than her trying to understand the struggle of others, or even the larger dialogue about race in the U.S.Millner repeatedly refers to an eating disorder, but seems reluctant to fully deconstruct her own illness and the commentary it makes on control and alienation. Millner misses her opportunity to talk about an experience solidly her own that speaks to her isolation, the middle-class values she interrogates, and race and gender. Likewise, Millner dances around the role of depression in her teenage years. We as readers miss out on a great deal with these omissions. It’s hard to write a memoir when there are still things one does not wish to lay bare.

I found her discussion of growing up in a Latino neighborhood, highly engaging, as was her honest admission that she still harbors anger toward Latinos.

Here’s what I was expecting from the memoir:
1. A deeper discussion of body politics.

2. Millner understands her privilege in relation to others deprivation. That’s not the same as self-reflection.

3. I don’t know how she made it through high school or college without some comment about her hair. That is a rite of passage for girls of color in private school.

4. A fuller discussion of sexual politics. Millner speaks about how she has fallen in love yet again, but never establishes why she has the pattern of falling in love so easily. This could have been a great place to talk about seeking belonging through men and what it means when it’s men you need to feel claimed.

Millner mentions that she is irritated by the Black community at Harvard’s exclusion of Black gay men but doesn’t talk about what she did to engage those who are exlcuded. Millner also talks about a former friend Hans, who sexually assaults her friend, Millner’s reaction is oddly distant.

5. There are a couple of histrionic moments at the end of the novel which seem out of place.

6. She doesn’t use “…,” she paraphrases what is said, and because she uses her own language, everyone sounds like her.

Maybe this is the problem: I’m trying to put Millner in a box, have her speak directly to me. My defense? My own experience calls back to me, alerting me to somewhat hollow notes. I applaud Millner for telling her own unique story – it is a story tied to time and place. Sometimes that produces a universal narrative, I’m not sure that happened here.

In the end, I’m glad I read it. I’m going to recommend it to friends and then I am going to consider writing my own memoir, ’cause I have had a lot of crazy ish go down, and if Millner can write a memoir, then I damn sure can too.

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