Review: Dismembering the American Dream: The Life and Fiction of Richard Yates

Adobe Photoshop PDFDismembering the American Dream: The Life and Fiction of Richard Yates
Kate Charlton-Jones
University of Alabama Press, August 2014
279 pages
$49.95

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An English professor, a former colleague of mine, once admitted to me that he wasn’t much of a fan of the novelist about whom he had spent his entire career writing. I’m sure the look I gave him summed up my feelings. Really? Are you kidding? Sadly, I’ve since met other professors who’ve held similar dim views. Consequently, libraries are full of such clinical, soulless monographs written by hazmat-wearing academics decontaminating their authors. And so when Kate Charlton-Jones writes in the introduction of her book Dismembering the American Dream: The Life and Fiction of Richard Yates that it’s “an extended appreciation of Yates’s work,” I said aloud, “Thank God!”

Later, she writes, “It is my hope that this book will add to the real resurgence of interest in Richard Yates’s fiction and help to persuade those who have either dismissed it or have yet to read his stories that they have made a grave error of omission.”Continue Reading

Holiday Book Shopping List: The TV-Lovers Edition

vintage Woolworth's Christmas‘Tis the season for gift giving, and what makes a better gift than an unforgettable book? 2014 has been a great year for books and television both, so here are some pairings to help you shop for the TV enthusiast in your life.Continue Reading

Review: Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine

dr mutterDr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
Gotham Books, September 2014
372 pages
$27.50

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As a schoolchild in North Philadelphia, Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz went on class trips to the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, which housed a collection of medical artifacts and oddities, many of which had been amassed by Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, a physician at the turn of the nineteenth century. Aptowicz, a poet who is also the author of another nonfiction work (Words In Your Face, a history of the spoken word movement), became intrigued with Mütter, and researched his story.

And what a story it was. Orphaned young, he traveled widely and acquired skills. He faced up to the establishment of the time, overcame opposition and became one of its most celebrated members, only to die tragically young.

The subtitle, “A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine”, indicates Aptowicz’ dual focus in her book. She offers a tale of Mütter’s life and his innovations, both in close-up and in panoramic views, telling a compelling story of medicine during a transitional phase, and of one person’s enduring influence, by combining extensive research and deft expression with the pacing and detail of a densely plotted thriller.Continue Reading

Up-and-Coming: A Look at Emerging Authors from South Asia

friday 2Literary luminaries like Salman Rushdie (The Satanic Verses) and Kamila Shamsie (A God in Every Stone) have dominated the South Asian writing landscape, but there are more heavyweights who merit recognition. The following authors offer a glimpse of contemporary English writing emerging in the subcontinent.Continue Reading

Why a Football Coach Reads a Tennis Instructor: On The Inner Game of Tennis

Super Bowl champion and/or spiritual guru.

Super Bowl champion and/or spiritual guru.

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance
Timothy Gallwey
Random House, 1997
122 pages
$8.75

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Perhaps this moment feels like the second half of a joke that starts, “You know you’re in Seattle when . . . ” but it really happened: I was putting my groceries on the little conveyor belt thing, and I looked up to see Pete Carroll, the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, staring at me from the cover of Mindful Magazine.

It’s a pretty rare cover for Mindful Magazine, and not just because it featured a football coach instead of any number of the world’s more conventional health-and-wellness gurus. On most covers of Mindful Magazine, we see the subject kneeling in lotus, beaming, impossibly large, and generally just super-duper well-rested and overjoyed to be alive!! These covers just might turn off or even intimidate readers with their smarm. Carroll, meantime, is perched on a stool, quietly poised in a business suit. Perhaps, if the picture were cropped differently, one would see the Super Bowl ring on his finger.Continue Reading

Review: The Infinitesimals

lauraThe Infinitesimals
Laura Kasischke
Copper Canyon Press, July 2014
100 pages
$16.00

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Imagine a strange land where tumors that resemble “terrible frogs,” a man with an “unbuttoned” face, and an ever-returning sea beast dwell, and where motherhood is a “grand opera staged in a cave.” This is The Infinitesimals by author Laura Kasischke, her ninth poetry collection (in addition to nine novels), which was published by Copper Canyon Press (July 2014). Here, illness and mortality assume anthropomorphic contours, wherein the loss of Kasischke’s mother, for instance, becomes “birds on the other side of . . . binoculars” who stare her (and us) down.

As with Space, In Chains (2011), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, Kasischke’s latest collection, tight with her distinguishing concision and strong lyricism, continues to invent and explore new terrains. Never over-the-top with her surrealism, Kasischke aims to excavate the “infinitesimal” in this collection, which seventeenth century philosopher George Berkley, in the epigraph, defines as “the ghosts of departed quantities.” Put in another way, she challenges us to consider what we cannot see, explain, or portend.Continue Reading

America’s Saturday Church: On My Conference Can Beat Your Conference by Paul Finebaum

Sit, stand, kneel.

Sit, stand, kneel.

My Conference Can Beat Your Conference: Why the SEC Still Rules College Football
Paul Finebaum with Gene Wojciechowski
Harper Collins, 2014
273 pages
$19.99

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I could travel the world for years and never get halfway through my bucket list of all the sporting events I’d love to attend in person. But certainly one thing way up high on that list is a fall spent deep in America’s South, watching Southeastern Conference college football. And I’m saying that from up here in the gray Northwest, where it seems like every other business is adorned year-round with the number 12, a show of solidarity with the reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. Still, Seattle’s famous football (and football) mania looks like a passing hobby compared to the mania that overtakes the diagonally opposite region of the country during football season. Continue Reading

Word Nerds Gone Wild: A Reading List

10112885I remember my intern days well. Hell, I was an intern three times: first during college, then again after being let go from my first post-college job, and once more after making the leap into full-time freelance work. Each one of those experiences was different from the others in a variety of ways. But what all of them have in common is that none of them resembled the internships portrayed in The Intern’s Handbook. Which is understandable because, in Shane Kuhn’s The Intern’s Handbook, the interns are actually undercover assassins, using their internships as covers because no one ever notices the intern.

Brilliant.Continue Reading

How to Read Derek Jeter: On The Devil’s Snake Curve by Josh Ostergaard

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

Can you find the symbols for American political power in this picture?

The Devil’s Snake Curve: A Fan’s Notes From Left Field
Josh Ostergaard
Coffee House Press, 2014
253 pages
$15.95

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Of course every history is subjective, but Josh Ostergaard starts his from an intriguing place by broadcasting his subjectivity. Devil’s Snake Curve is Ostergaard’s American history of the twentieth- and twenty-firstcenturies, as interpreted through baseball. The book is a collage of page-length anecdotes, equally likely to be culled from Ostergaard’s own underwhelming Little League youth or a century-old newspaper clipping, that cluster into themes like “Animals” or “Nationalism.” Continue Reading

Capsule Reviews: Murakami, Burton, and More

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

9780385352109_custom-0f3fbbdbb53bd816cb906ed2438061ba089645f8-s99-c85In literary locales from Tokyo to London, Murakami’s latest novel was heralded with the hype of a summer blockbuster. In Japan alone, a million copies were sold within five weeks of the book’s publication in 2013—and following its English language release last month, Tsukuru topped both the Nielsen and New York Times bestseller lists. Massive sales aside, Murakami’s latest work could hardly have less in common with the prototypical summer bestseller. Tsukuru Tazaki is devoid of pulse-pounding thrills or even the frenetic surrealism pioneered in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. In their place, the author has penned a tale of existential quandaries, fathomless melancholy, and tremendous compassion for the spiritual turmoil of its protagonist.

Continue Reading