Review: Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism

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Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism
Walter LaFeber
W.W. Norton, 1999
191 Pages

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It doesn’t take very long for a revolution to seem quaint. In 1999, the year that Michael Jordan and the New Global Capitalism was published by Cornell Professor Emeritus of history Walter LaFeber, the concept of a cellular telephone was enough to count for a revolution. No wires! Conversations outside—anywhere! Woah! Fifteen years later, one is only enamored with that original, novel lure of the cell phone when willfully strolling down memory lane. Remember when we were so simple.

So it goes with Michael Jordan’s basketball career—or, to be more accurate, the societal impact of Michael Jordan’s basketball career. In the book, LaFeber bestows revolutionary language upon the types of business deals that fueled Jordan’s career. Considerable time, for instance, is spent detailing the newfangled business strategies from Nike, the shoe company that helped propel Jordan to global fame, and vice versa. Nike, an American company, produced and sold most of their shoes in other countries, which LaFeber identifies as a revolutionary new way of doing business, of the world interacting with itself.

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Blood Memory

“There is only one of you in all time; this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”—Martha Graham

Dance was my first foray into art, and I studied it for sixteen years with the kind of blind passion you can only cultivate before puberty, before cynicism and self-doubt set in, gnawing at your dreams.

Though humble, those years of dance training gave me my first taste of expressing myself through art, of channeling meaning. Though I wobbled and my turnout failed when I danced en pointe to Vivaldi’s “Spring,” I understood the rapturous feeling of new growth, the sun on one’s skin after winter. Vivaldi translated his feelings about spring into music, and we small town Carolinians tried our best to bring those ideas to life with the body. Though our results were what you might expect from a studio that shared space with a gas station, our effort was noble.Continue Reading

The Summer of Salinger, A Review

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My Salinger Year
Joanna Rakoff
272 pages
Knopf
$25.95

buy: here

J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist
Thomas Beller
192 Pages
Icons Series, New Harvest
$20

buy: here

 

As a boy in Manhattan, Thomas Beller frequented the Museum of Natural History, struggled with his Jewish identity and didn’t apply himself in school. Now he’s our, “ideal guide to J.D. Salinger’s world.” As a young woman from Brooklyn, poet Johanna Rakoff stumbles into this world, testifying, “We all have to start somewhere.”  Last summer both authors released books with Salinger’s name in the title, but that’s about all they have in common.

With J.D. Salinger:The Escape Artist (New Harvest, June 2014), Beller embarks on a “quest biography…as much about the biographer as the subject.” It’s a questionable premise. Does Beller think he’s that interesting? There’s no denying Salinger—from Manhattan, to Normandy, and New Hampshire—lived an intensely singular life. How can Beller expect to measure up?

We never get answers to those questions (or any others), because The Escape Artist is more literary walkabout than author analysis. Our guide wanders off near Riverside Drive.

Beller acknowledges an, “aura of trespass,” yet he slogs on, describing Salinger as he’s been described to oblivion: “consummate outsider,” “genius recluse,” and—of particular significance to Beller—“half-Jewish.”Continue Reading

Naming as Paying Attention

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Names can be hard for the tongue to wrap its head around. I say this with the conviction of my full being as a male, a poet, a twin, and a slight stutterer. (Of course I stutter. My brother and I lived our early lives assuming that the world, too, would understand our twin-speak. And why shouldn’t I—whose name that world was always mistaking for his, thus for whom the right name was sacrosanct – be a poet?)

*

There was the DJ at my little cousin’s bar mitzvah, a lively man who went around introducing himself to everyone during hors-d’oeuvre hour and who, on the dance floor an hour later, forbid us from taking our seats until he’d spoken our names, prompting us to exchange raised, incredulous eyebrows, and he proceeded to point to every person, first the one hundred thirteen-year-olds clustered together, one by one he said each name into the microphone, and when the dance floor was empty he pointed to each slack-jawed uncle and aunt at the surrounding tables, faces he’d never seen until an hour before, and could even tell my brother and me apart from thirty feet away. When I asked him later in the night with awe how he did it, what the hell his secret was, he said, almost lovingly, “I pay attention.”

Did his background in music sensitize him to the individual song of a person’s name? Or was his brain, so unlike a sieve, just bigger? Did he invent stories to remember that room of bodies? Did he recite each name three times under his breath? Does he go around whispering all words three times over? “Saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry”?

*

When I asked Roger Reeves, who was generous enough to visit my class last year, why the pages of his first book King Me were flecked with the word “tongue,” he said that it is the origin of creation. A thing named now exists. For the DJ to listen, the tongue first has to speak.

*

The person who’s ever been teased knows that a mean name can be a fist, a quiet stoning with bone-breaking effects no X-Ray can spot. A pet name can be a touch to the cheek. How big we feel when a person we’ve met once before, months ago, in a dim room, remembers our name on the street. And how small we feel when we’ve forgotten theirs.

A few years ago—far from the DJ’s luminous mind—a student in one of my writing classes called me Andrew. This was two months into the semester. My name had been on the syllabus in large font, possibly emboldened. There was awkward murmuring among the other students, who knew me as Alex, and I let it ensue until she looked around and blushed, perhaps not realizing what she had done, and I let her blush for a moment longer before rescuing her. She had no excuse. The room, brightly lit, must have been blinding to this poor freshman, outmatched by her first semester, whose name for the life of me I can no longer remember.

*

Ask anyone wearing an inmate number whether names matter. In a life often where so much has been decided for them, naming is the privilege to sculpt a piece of their identity. “Street names” may be favored over their “government names.” In the classes I teach through the Cornell Prison Education Program, I try to remember the NuLeadership Policy Group’s exhortation to “stop using these negative terms (inmates, convicts, prisoners, felons) and to simply refer to us as people. People currently or formerly incarcerated, people on parole, people recently released from prison, people in prison, people with criminal convictions, but people.” Being aware of such a basic reality means paying deep, ceaseless attention.

*

Do names matter? Ask Leah, fellow clarinetist and my first ever date, who wondered aloud after the movie was over why I used her name so much in conversation. I didn’t have the language—as Richard Rodriguez did in his essay “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood” to describe his family’s “private” use of Spanish at home while English thudded beyond their doors—to call it “intimacy.”

But had this word occurred to me, “intimacy,” I would never have uttered it, not even alone in my room. A self-conscious adolescent male is always in the presence of others. “Lovely” was also off-limits. So was “beautiful,” unless what was beautiful was a female body. I think my high school baseball teammates teased me precisely because they figured that as a poet I went around declaring the trees’ green leaves lovely, everything intimately felt, and dammit they were right. My teammates thought me soft, though, not perceptive or brave, as I preferred to frame it. But how brave was I, who’d never speak those words aloud except on paper, out of the baseball diamond’s earshot.

Naming things beautiful, even privately, was a kind of freedom from the silly linguistic strictures of being male. I suppose it stood for my never-to-be-shared belief that, to redact Susan Sontag’s final sentence of “Against Interpretation,” “we need an erotics of maleness.”

Naming—attentional naming—has always been for me a freedom to be accurate, which means a freedom to correct. I’m sure I need more time than most. Such naming is patience. But how beautiful to get it right.

Review: TWENTY THOUSAND PIGEONS by Justin Bigos

twenty_thousand_pigeonsTwenty Thousand Pigeons
Justin Bigos
iO Press, 2014

1st edition sold out; inquire here

When I think of twenty thousand pigeons, I think of Disney vacations
and city park picnics from childhood—precious memories ruined by grey birds pooping in my hair and stealing my French fries. But when I think of Twenty Thousand Pigeons, a stunning chapbook of poems by Justin Bigos, I’m instantly at home, no matter where I am. Bigos attacks familiar world-weariness with heart and personality in this collection about bereavement and place. He carries us from New York to Chicago, from Pittsburgh to Texas, sharing meditations on love and aching experiences with loss. Rather than offering an escape from life’s ailments, mishaps and tragedies—bad jobs, unhealthy relationships, death and doubt—Bigos’ haunting poems ask us to remember, question, and grow.Continue Reading

Review: Zen Bow, Zen Arrow by John Stevens

Zen Bow, Zen Arrow: The Life and Teachings of Awa Kenzo
John Stevens
Shambhala, 2007
101 pages
$12.95
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In John Stevens’ half-biography/half-koan-medley Zen Bow, Zen Arrow, we visit bamboo-fenced dojos, learning from early 20th-century Japanese master Awa Kenzo how archery can be a vessel that improves a whole person. In particularly zen fashion, piercing the bullseye doesn’t seem to be the primary requirement in demonstrating an improved self. Indeed: “Kenzo argued that in today’s world the true purpose of archery is to perfect the human spirit.”

Admittedly, some of the koans–spoken by Kenzo, translated by Stevens–read as much like a line of dialogue for a cross-legged yogi in a Saturday Night Live sketch as they read like actual wisdom. The tenth and ultimate level in shooting prowess is, I guess, achieving “a shadowless moon-mind.” Your guess is as good as mine here.

Plenty of times, though, it feels like Kenzo’s aphorisms scratch meaningfully beneath the surface of physical activity, recording the ways in which the spirit moves with the body. A personal favorite: “If you look at the target as your enemy, you will never make progress. The target is a reference point, not your opponent.” I’d like to think that “target,” here, can be read not just as the archery-specific bullseye but also as any of life’s targets that we, you know, aim for. Usually it feels like we’re doing battle with our goals in life–some days it would seem they have picked a fight with us–but in Kenzo’s approach these objectives aren’t battling with us any more or less than a mirror is battling with us. The mirror, the bullseye are reflections of ourselves as we truly are.Continue Reading

This Winter’s Must-Reads

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There is no better way to pass the coldest season of the year than by cozying up with a good book, and 2015 has started off with a bang. Here are our picks for this winter’s best literary offerings.

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Disgruntled
Asali Solomon
FSG, February 3
$26
Buy: bookebook

 

Meet Kenya: acute observer, recurrent sleepwalker, a young woman who feels the shame of being alive. Growing up in West Philadelphia in the 1980s as the daughter of a man obsessed with Frank Lloyd Wright’s butler, Kenya straddles her father’s subversive world and the more stable life her mother desires. After the abrupt dissolution of her parents’ relationship, Kenya attends a mostly white girls’ prep school where she’s forced to learn how to navigate a world she doesn’t have the freedom to call her own.

As she grows, Kenya’s mother and father take turns rescuing their daughter and needing to be rescued by her. Her imprisoned father doesn’t send a single letter; instead he entrusts her with the beginning pages of his novel. Her mother becomes increasingly oblivious as Kenya dodges the lecherously cheerful eye of her stepfather.  She falls for a young artist who is only interested in white girls, she takes a chance and befriends an estranged sister, and she learns the weight of a gun in her hand and the shock of pulling the trigger.

A cutting and contemplative coming-of-age story, Disgruntled deftly charts the lonely terrain of self-discovery and the impenetrable bonds that ever beckon us homeward.

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(Writing) Exercise: Self-compassion

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I’m talking here of memory’s difficulty. Difficult not in the way I have to wrack my weak brain to remember what happened, but in the way I’m forced to face that time I let my brother, bleeding from the mouth, run the mile home alone. Difficult in the way that looking back prompts me to see myself, as James Agee puts it, “disguised as a child.”

And what an ugly costume it could be. Holding my youth at arm’s length makes clear how royally fallible I really was. I see my foibles for the first time. My limitedness had hid them from me—a kind of Dunning-Kruger effect. And this is difficult.

As in looking back on the stack of birthday cards from my grandmother I tossed out, thinking my desk had no room. Into the wastebasket that lets every memory in and none out. I didn’t know what should be kept and what chucked. I didn’t know I was in the room with my grandmother herself, who had touched the card at its edges, wheezing over the short note with her reading glasses on. And I didn’t know that the thrown-away card would become sad and inimitable when she dies.

My grandmother tried to warn me. She dated the card at the top right corner so that I too would know posterity as always looming. Of course I see this looking back. She dated it to please the grandfather she knew I’d become, on whose lap she sat with a little girl’s wide eyes, nearing the end, nearing the beginning.Continue Reading

Review: COYOTE by Colin Winnette

COYOTE-colin-winnetteCoyote
Colin Winnette
Les Figues Press, 2015
96 pages
$17.00

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It’s a natural tendency to summarize, to distill entire constellations of events and details into a single swallow of information. Near the beginning of Coyote, Colin Winnette’s protagonist attempts just this, saying “I tell the same story every time: we put her to bed, and when we woke up she was gone.” The “she” in question is the young daughter of the story’s two main characters, who vanishes in the night with no clear explanation. What follows, what makes up the rest of the story, are all the murky details filtered out of that simple synopsis: a curious detective, a bathroom filled with bees, a toxic marriage, and an imperfect memory.Continue Reading

Review: THE QB by Bruce Feldman

qbjpg-60749c0583313eaaThe QB: The Making of Modern Quarterbacks
Bruce Feldman
Crown Archetype, October 2014
304 pages
$27.00

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Like the casting of James Bond or the election of presidents, the styles, moods, and values of the NFL’s starting quarterbacks in any given generation provide a meaningful reflection of where American masculinity is oriented. So no big surprise, then, that the manicured post-adolescent quarterbacks profiled in Bruce Feldman’s The QB—and, but of course, their omnipresent and phenomenally expensive private tutors—resort to the airy jargon and buzzwords of modern business whenever they get excited.

One of the main characters in The QB is Trent Dilfer, who was an average quarterback—as far as NFL-caliber quarterbacks are concerned—from 1994 to 2007. Dilfer’s verve for life, though, seems to have been only awakened in retirement by running Elite 11, a workout-camp-slash-TV-show focused on grooming the nation’s most promising high school quarterbacks. Excuse me: Elite 11 is a “forward-facing platform” focused on establishing a “holistic coaching ecosystem.”Continue Reading