Literary Review

Debora Spar: The Baby Business

baby_biz.jpgOne of the more important and timely books of last year, The Baby Business: How Money, Science, and Politics Drive the Commerce of Conception (Harvard Business School Press) doesn't seem to be coming out in paperback. In fact, you can grab the hardcover for $6.62 on Amazon. Where's the fairness in that? The masses should be in an uproar.

Anyway, I caught up with its author, the stylish Debora Spar, as she was treading the pathways of City College in upper Manhattan. She was there to lecture a group of young undergraduate feminist theorists.

Gray's Anatomy

gray_dylan.jpgThe Bob Dylan Encyclopedia by Michael Gray (Continuum)

Like a bloody train wreck, some books just have an inevitable likelihood of being written. They are labors of twisted love and devotion holding a virtually pornographic fascination for both the writer and his audience. Dense and devotional, it is no coincidence that this weighty tome resembles a cross between a dictionary, a Bible, and a pathology manual.

Korporate Komedy Koup!

blackberry.jpgNapoleon couldn't conquer Britain. Neither could Hitler. But the Blackberry (tm) has accomplished what neither of these maniacs could. What's worse, it brought with it the bilge of American corpo-speak and created in its wake cadres of globalist, Golf-worshiping business-types. As a result, the land of Shakespeare has educated people running around spouting rubbish like "best in class," "core competencies," and "benchmarking."

Lucy Kellaway's recent e-mail novel, Who Moved My Blackberry, creates a laff-riot by tracing a year in the life of one Martin Lukes, proud author of the concept of "Creovation" (tm).

ANNIVERSARIES: "Howl" Published Fifty Years Ago

howlAllen Ginsberg's "Howl," published in Howl and Other Poems in November 1956 (the fourth item in the famous City Lights Pocket Poets series), is the most influential and iconic poem of the past half-century.

It went into the world with a wonderful introduction penned by fellow New Jerseyite and poet William Carlos Williams, who did as good a job as an establishment poet could of preparing an unsuspecting world for the force that was about to realign it: "Literally he has, from all the evidence, been through hell. On the way he met a man named Carl Solomon with whom he shared among the teeth and excrement of this life something that cannot be described but in the words he has used to describe it." And, "He avoids nothing but experiences it to the hilt. He contains it."

Pensee-ing About Topic A

sexual_pensees.jpgTalk about value for money -- Bruce Jay Friedman's new book may be slim on words, but it's packed with stories, about 200 of them at my count. Sexual Pensees is a collection of snippets, koans, aphorisms, proverbs, apocryphal tales, and blind items to titillate even the most chaste among us. From Hollywood eccentricities to a particularly delicious morsel involving the WWII singing sensations the Andrews Sisters, the book will keep you in stitches.

It's remarkable how Friedman, the multi-talented writer of everything from movies (Splash, The Lonely Guy, Doctor Detroit), to plays, to novels, to short stories (Neil Simon adapted Friedman's hilarious story

Steven Dalachinsky: The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse)

dalachinskyWhile poetry and jazz have gone together longer than chocolate and peanut butter, poetry about jazz is usually about as interesting as the poetry -- and, for that matter, the jazz, the chocolate, and the peanut butter -- you get from high school students. From a really bad school. On an off day.

Thankfully, this new poetry collection from jazz fan Steve Dalachinsky -- all of which was written while he listened to avant-garde saxophonist Charles Gayle perform -- usually isn't about the music. With a few exceptions, Dalachinsky instead takes inspiration from the music -- from its tones, structures, and moods -- in how he writes, not what he writes about. And that, to quote a poem he didn't write, makes all the difference in the world. Especially since Gayle's playing could've inspired some truly terrible poetry. 

The Other Zweibel

shulman.jpgThere is no question that Alan Zweibel is a funny guy. Hell, he was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live, before anyone could say, "Remember when it was good?" It was good then. He hob-nobs with Garry Shandling (perhaps he even had a hand in the original jingle for Shandling's original show, one of the funniest ever; if memory serves, it went something like, "This is the song for the Garry Shandling Show, this is the catchy title song for the Garry Shandling Show"...funny). He's buds with Larry David, had a huge hand in Billy Crystal's smash Broadway play.

Tall Tales

crashing.jpgThere's no doubt that Harvey Araton loves basketball, especially professional basketball. He's been covering the game for the last thirty years as a New York sportswriter; grew up playing basketball and continues to share his enthusiasm as a fan with his sons.

His book Crashing the Borders: How Basketball Won the World and Lost its Soul at Home is a reflection of both his genuine passion and keen understanding of the game. Unfortunately, the angry tone and polemical structure of the book mitigate the effectiveness of these attributes, which would have been much better utilized in a straightforward historical narrative such as John Taylor's The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball or, given Araton's personal history and closeness to the game, a memoir.

Tom Savage/Steve Dalachinsky/Yuko Otomo: Bowery Poetry Club, NYC

savage.jpgThis evening was a book release party for Tom Savage's Bamiyan Poems. A limited edition chapbook (nearly sold out already) with a beautiful cover, it's published by Sisyphus Press, run by Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo (the cover artist), the dynamic duo of the downtown poetry scene. All three read, with the honoree leading off the night with the longest slot in the program.

Bamiyan Poems was written in Afghanistan during a 1970 trip to the Bamiyan Budhhas, the two largest Buddha statues in the world. These imposing figures with a colorful history were a long-time attraction until the Taliban blew them up in 2000 for violating Islam's rule against idols.

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan DidionOn December 30, 2003, Joan Didion's husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a massive heart attack and died in her living room. Her only daughter, Quintana, was hospitalized at the time, and several weeks after her apparent recovery, she was once again rushed to the hospital for treatment of a potentially fatal hematoma. She showed signs of recovery, but died in August of 2005. Out of these events, Joan Didion has crafted her memoir of grief, The Year of Magical Thinking.

As in her famous essay "The White Album," which dealt with her own mental breakdown in the context of the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, Didion applies steady, relentless, dispassionate prose to an agony past imagining.