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. Read more »

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. Read more »

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). Read more »

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."

Read more »

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 Read more »

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.  Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

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. Read more »

The First Hippie?

First HippieMy new years resolution, in addition to starting smoking, is to try to review more current, contemporary, hot of the presses, bestsellers. But the new year is still young and I recently finished The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham. I don't have to tell you it's a classic. But have you read it? Recently? I didn't see any of the movies of it -- especially the one Bill Murray made before his revival. But I like Maugham's superb short stories. So... 

A quick WIA (what it's about): Rich people in industrial Chicago between the wars. Rich people in Paris. And one broken man's upsetting the apple cart of all his expectations - a "best and brightest of his generation" type guy who decides his goal in life is "loafing." And then watching it morph into a spiritual search -- touched with more than a little magic. Read more »

Lenny Bruce Has a Very Bad Cold

Lenny BruceI couldn't believe my luck when I read that Jonathan Goldstein's novella Lenny Bruce is Dead was being published in America (sometime around March, by Perseus Books). Until now, only the Canadians (those lucky Canadians!) had access to it. I had discovered Goldstein's writing in the"Funny Pages" section of The New York Times Sunday Magazine. While I have to admit I found the graphic novel and the serialized story somewhat heavy sledding, Goldstein's two first-person humorous essays were hilarious, fresh, and inspiring. I hoped there was a book by him. Read more »

The Voice of the Image

zsmithgaitskill

We’ve recently witnessed the release of two new novels by exciting (and radically different) talents: On Beauty, by Zadie Smith, and Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill. On Beauty is a comic, sprawling family novel. It’s also a novel about the pursuit of beauty, which manages to find that virtue in unlikely places. Veronica, on the other hand, is decidedly morose. It deals with the friendship between two women – one a bitter, used-up fashion model, the other a terminally ill office worker – whose faith in beauty fails them while they fail each other. It’s a book about the body, its uses, and its inevitable decay; it has a merciless, almost cruel honesty. Read more »

Selling Out and Buying In: The Rise of Fashionista Feminism

Lipstick JungleSex and the City happened the way most pop trends do: slowly at first, and then all at once. One day, Sarah Jessica Parker was just another face on a magazine cover: flat, glossy, and irrelevant, connected in some obscure way to Kim Cattrall (known best – to me, anyway – for her achievements in films such as Baby Geniuses and Mannequin). Then, before you could say “DVD player,” Sex was on every TV in the tri-state area.

The show had a certain soothing quality, like a handful of tranquilizers washed down with champagne: Unmarried women, who (as the show never ceased to remind us) had traditionally been portrayed as sexless and sad, were instead painted as the belles of an endless ball. Read more »

Sharpeshooter

Tom SharpeIn case you hadn't heard, Porterhouse is the name of the most notoriously lax, gut, gout-inducing college in Cambridge University. The Porter of Porterhouse is a thick-skinned, pipe-chewing, half-simian thug named Skullion. And Porterhouse Blue is not an athletic team or the college colors, but is instead a description of the distinctive malady induced by Porterhouse's most notable feature oh these past five centuries or so, its rich repasts and its over-stuffed wine cellar -- in short, complete physio-psychic toxic shock. Welcome to Porterhouse Blue.

If there were any question that we are in Tom Sharpe country, consider just one sentence from the opening of this remarkable satire: "An evening to remember Master," said the Senior Tutor sebaceously" Read more »

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