PanBookforum\"Nelson can leverage her lyric sensibility to marvelous effect when she writes about people who matter to her, as happens sporadically in On Freedom. But the general absence of autobiographical narrative in the book inadvertently reveals the trouble with her dialectical approach. Her preferred method is one of synthesis and accretion, putting quotes and observations in fragmentary conversation with one another ... she is the sole source of intellectual tension and hesitant to commit to any stance without an excess of caveats and concessions. The resulting equivocation stalls her rhetoric. Rather than stating what she means, she errs on the side of caution and emphasizes what she doesn’t. The use of fragments, too, felt better suited to the emotional gravity and interiority of her more intimate work. But in this latest work of criticism, the instinct to break as often as to link works against her. A traditional essay shape would force transitions and connections; here, short sections stand alone, as if complete, yet don’t cohere. Prevarication is especially relentless in the first chapter ... I’m...unconvinced of the benefit in abstracting possibilities that conflict with the reality of the example ... Most galling, perhaps, is Nelson’s refusal to take seriously art’s role in the concentration of wealth, or of the power such wealth confirms ... This distorted perspective about who threatens whom, or what, and what that threat actually consists of, is endemic to established writers with lucrative careers and secure platforms ... it’s debatable which is a better example of that paranoia: someone protesting a work of art, or Nelson writing thousands of words about the threat that could have been posed by...protest, but wasn’t ... On Freedom made me reflect, again, on the spell of white rationality and the fetishization of conceptual thought that swerves back into the realm of the theoretical rather than exit into the material. It is a book that leaves readers with no permissible action, only a patronizing invitation to manage their own feelings (as if their feelings are unfounded or unexamined by definition).
RaveBookforumHow to Be Animal begins with the premise that our collective self-regard depends on the idea that we are superior to every other type of being. This fiction is predicated on a denial of other animals’ inner complexity, or at least a belief that it can’t approximate, let alone surpass, our own ... Challenger’s book is a dizzyingly ambitious attempt to correct this destructive logic by examining its genesis, and I don’t mean \'dizzying\' figuratively. How to Be Animal induces the type of vertigo I experienced as a child while pondering where I was before I was born, if I could exist without a body, and what it would be like to have never existed at all. The book aims to convince readers that our earthbound, embodied existences are precious and absolute ... What How to Be Animal brings forth so beautifully is that impermanence is not a state confirmed by death.
Jonathan Safran Foer
MixedBookforum... a bleak, discursive examination of persistent passivity in the face of the horrible future ... How to Prevent the Greatest Dying, a section of Weather in which Foer bullet-points chilling facts related to food and climate crisis, reminds me of the thinspo binders I used to compile with paste and pictures of gaunt models cut from magazines, though I think his project has the stronger flavor of futility. Covetousness is more propulsive than terror, which is as likely to paralyze as it is to motivate ... Foer pays lip service to collectivity, but he seems to think of it as spontaneous, semi-instinctive synchronicity, like a wave at a baseball game, rather than intentional collaboration.
PanBookforum\"... this work comes across as the tedious provocations of a man desperate for any negative attention he can get ... I’m not always so aggrieved by a man lazily stroking his own libido. Accounts of someone’s arousal can be (and often are) comic, enlivening, and, at their best, contagious. Even chauvinism can be made delightful if delivered with enough panache; The Prisoner of Sex proved as much. But Shields’s presumption that his desire necessarily contains timeless insight—usually about women qua women and, less frequently, men qua men—makes him complacent, incurious: He quotes profligately, but what he shares simply reiterates his own tastes rather than building an argument or deepening comprehension ... But here’s the ruse: Shields’s appetite for rejection is just another way of keeping women confined to the sexual sphere. Throughout The Trouble with Men, women are consistently tagged by visual appeal ... These female ﬁgures are neither fully human nor fully object. They’re subjects, sort of, but their personhood becomes irrelevant beyond the bounds of the narrator’s libido. Shields desires, and women, those powerful paragons of beauty, are desired. It’s what any enlightened man would do.\
MixedBookforum\"I liked \'Cat Person\' when it came out, but I found myself resisting You Know You Want This ... the back-and-forth dynamic Roupenian finds so fascinating rarely acquires a third dimension... the stories’ vagueness ultimately struck me as less a feature than an unintentional bug, like the author wasn’t sure what to invent to fill these gaps and so convinced herself filling them wasn’t necessary ... Too many characters—the red-lipstick-wearing Brooklynite of \'The Matchbox Sign,\' the greedy narrator of \'Scarred,\' whose predominant characteristic seems to be \'sociopath\'—are like dolls dropped into a predetermined plot. I found this naked utility wearying rather than intriguing, though it should make for decent TV, where such gaps can be padded with facial expressions and music and sets ... Roupenian seems to favor a prompt of \'what if?\' And that certainly yields action. I wish she had sometimes asked why as well.\
MixedBookforumWith Hartley’s preferred phrase [\'emotional labor\'], women’s emotional suffering is front and center. Or at least that’s a charitable explanation. A less charitable one is that as the physical labor of childcare and cleaning is increasingly outsourced to wage workers, the hiring class of women needs a new handle to indicate their taxing responsibilities as overseers, a role commonly tacked on to the beginning and end of their own (paid) workday. Another title for Fed Up could have been A Manager’s Lament ... Or maybe that\'s unfair ... her general complaint is valid, and it’s one that’s been left unaddressed for decades ... Her mantra—that relentless micromanaging \'keeps everyone happy and comfortable\'—becomes less convincing with every repetition. She, for one, is explicitly not happy ... Her prescription for \'the way forward\' involves no policy recommendations—though she does suggest \'more diverse representation in government\'—but rather a plethora of platitudes ... she’s only half-right, at best. We should not live, nor want to live, without loving and tending to others. But we also shouldn’t confuse class-coded and minute expressions of domestic prowess with manifestations of care. It turns out that an all-purpose phrase, just like an all-purpose cleaner, yields messy results.
Amelie Nothomb, Trans. by Alison Anderson
PanBookforum\"Strike Your Heart is a parable, so it makes sense that it reads like the voice-over of an animated fairy tale: spare, severe, with an archness that implies wit without quite achieving it ... Nothomb is at her best when she luxuriates in the crevices of an emotion’s rational irrationality, but Strike Your Heart never settles down long enough to excavate much of anything a character feels. It seems she cares less about Diane than she’s cared about her lovely leading ladies in previous parables ... Strike Your Heart isn’t very good, but I think that’s OK. When a writer produces more than twenty titles, there are bound to be a few disappointments. Without the zest of narcissism, Nothomb’s writing can become wooden. No longer self-conscious about her self-aggrandizement, she abandons her humor and her eccentricities, and largely gives up plumbing the shameful bottomlessness of the ego, which is what gives her strongest passages their complexity.\
David Lynch and Kristine McKenna
MixedNew Republic\"The pacing is slow and discursive, as are Lynch’s films, but text doesn’t function as a film (like The Art Life) does, with its inclusion of visuals, sound, the molten quality of facial expressions. This is the primary reason Room To Dream is far more dull than I’d anticipated, or rather is only as stimulating as reading about Lynch ever is—which is actually still pretty stimulating ... In spite of its dryness, Room to Dream is valuable as a historical record, not only because it collects so much in a single manuscript but because McKenna’s shrewd and constant acknowledgement of the people who’ve surrounded and supported Lynch for decades chisels those names into the same record.\
RaveBookforumTao Lin\'s eighth book, Trip, is his best yet, and it’s all thanks to drugs ... Lin...has never been more creative, precise, or inspired than when he details psychedelics-begotten behavior and theories. The behavior is mostly his own, while the theories are often borrowed from Terence McKenna, the late psilocybin advocate whose YouTube videos started Lin down the path to revitalization ... When Trip sloughs off the weight of McKenna’s influence, it becomes a joy to read. Lin is a meticulous cataloguer ... By recounting his drug experimentation, he’s found the perfect outlet for his obsessive MO. His hypersensitivity to the granularity of lived experience becomes a boon ... His rendering of tripping is perfect—better even, for me, than Aldous Huxley’s elegant and evocative passages in The Doors of Perception, because Lin’s account conveys reverence and immersion without grandiosity. And that allows humor to leak through ... It was not out of callousness that I wrote \'lol, yes\' in the margins. It was out of recognition.
Edited by Roxane Gay
PositiveHarper\'sIn their underacknowledged anguish, the contributors gave the book...\'a place for people to give voice to their experiences,\' to describe their wounds and attempt to fortify others with similar injuries. Almost all the entries are confessional, restless with frustration and pain. And the anger of Not That Bad’s contributors...is hardly confined to their assailants. The greater betrayal comes from complicit parents, callous peers, thoughtless doctors ... The problem lies with families, the friends that families keep, the church congregations to which families belong, and the professionals to whom families turn. At sixteen, after her father tries again [to assault her], Tracey writes letters to every adult she knows, begging for assistance leaving home. She receives no replies.
MixedBookforumAs \'a staunch materialist, and as an adult of a certain age,\' Pollan has an abundance of skepticism. That moral panic, for him, has not fully subsided, and it renders How to Change Your Mind repetitive and hamstrung ... I get it and sympathize, to a degree, though I mainly find his ambivalence exhausting ... It’s also telling that while the reported \'spiritual\' angle of psychedelics is what hooked him, Pollan had no interest in these drugs until they began receiving high-profile institutional approval, in the form of both Times coverage and university studies ... I bet you could cleave the lot of us fairly neatly between those who believe institutions have people’s best interests at heart—that they should be trusted to figure out the \'best\' way to take drugs—and those who see institutional attention as a sign of dark developments to come ... I’m afraid drugs alone aren’t going to change much of anything.
RaveBookforumThe State of Affairs is packed with such sage insights into the disappointing human heart. Through her formidable elegance, Perel manages to infuse some dignity into the pettiness of most betrayals: the unconvincing lies both parties tell and permit; the self-delusions (again, on each side); the flagrant, gratuitous gestures of disrespect (fucking a third party in the marital bed, say, or letting a girlfriend wear a piece of the wife’s clothing) ... I can’t be the only conveniently elastic reader who’s been unfaithful but always identifies with the partner who hasn’t, and Perel’s book draws out the dynamic behind this intellectually incoherent impulse ... Part of Perel’s charm is the nimbleness with which she assigns responsibility without condemning anyone outright. She embraces ambiguity, not equivocation—'There is a world of difference between understanding infidelity and justifying it'—so cheater and cheatee are held accountable for their failings but not provoked into (counterproductive) defensiveness.
RaveBookforum...a wry, pragmatic analysis of the miscarriages of justice and abrogation of common sense sometimes perpetrated by American colleges in the name of protecting women ... The greatest pleasure Unwanted Advances affords comes from Kipnis's keen sense of human psychology. While clearly outraged by both the kangaroo-court antics of the Title IX officials and the pervasive myth of womanly helplessness they thrive on, she doesn't romanticize the plight of the accused men and is often candid about her skeptical reactions to them and their stories.
PanThe New Republic...if Levy-as-narrator is to be believed, she spent the vast majority of her adult life feeling impervious to loss, deprivation, or insurmountable obstacles—and it’s feminism’s fault ... The conviction she’s describing actually belongs as much, if not more, to whiteness than to mainstream feminism—which is also called 'white feminism' for this very reason. It’s unlikely many Black women or Arab women or undocumented women would presume a similar degree of permission and mobility, regardless of their exposure to Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. This matters because, inexcusably, The Rules buys into and therefore reinforces the corrosive lie that feminism was, is, or should be a promise made to each woman that whatever she wants, she can have; that feminism is first and foremost about a 'you' rather than about an 'us' because its power (and importance) is conscribed to the individual instead of the collective ... As a result of this blindness, The Rules Do Not Apply is a monument to obliviousness, an unwitting testament to the ability of whiteness and class to supersede other markers of social identity like sexuality and gender.
PositiveThe New RepublicThe Mother of All Questions unites some of Solnit’s sharpest feminist polemics with her decades-long preoccupation with crafting narrative … The book is divided into two sections: ‘Silence is Broken’ and ‘Breaking the Story.’ The first offers up what Solnit sees as evidence of major social shifts regarding women’s place in the world, while the second points to specific cultural artifacts that exemplify either sexist or feminist sentiments … The Mother of All Questions is best understood as Hope in the Dark retooled for young feminists. Where Hope spoke to activists at their most defeated, Mother appears in the first months of Trump’s presidency, armed with purpose and reason.
PositiveThe New RepublicSex is rare and devoid of detail. Aside from a gory moment of uterine hemorrhaging and an evocative description of a cockroach 'the size of a Pepperidge Farm Milano,' any reader anticipating visceral horror will be disappointed. That’s context, not criticism ... Exclamation points abound, as do all caps and phonetically spelled sounds. (Primarily 'AUUUUUGHHH' and variations thereof.) Many, many words are italicized. It’s cosmopolitan slapstick delivered by someone so relentlessly cheerful she doesn’t even hold a discernable grudge against the various men who rob and assault her. As a piece of writing, it’s rushed and full of holes, but Marnell is charismatic enough that it almost feels wrong to complain. She makes me want to be her friend. She makes me want to do more drugs ... Drugs give us something we can’t get any other way and you don’t need to be an addict to yearn for this particular escape. This is part of what Marnell’s getting at when she advocates for a public discussion about the truth that some people—a significant number of people—use a lot of drugs, and it may never be feasible for them to stop completely ... How To Murder Your Life—as the title suggests when coming from someone very much alive and notoriously well-compensated—testifies to the fact that drugs can wreck a person while turning that person into an icon...We like to pretend that many culture-defining personalities—visual artists, canonical writers, legendary musicians, 'generation-defining' actors—were hampered by the addictions that fed their best works when we have no way of knowing what they’d have produced in sobriety. Take away their alcohol, their heroin, their Adderall: Would we still be paying attention?
Ed. by Manjula Martin
PositiveThe New Republic...[an] impressive anthology ... Authors like Roxanne Gay and Cheryl Strayed offer up figures with no hedging or obfuscation and it is exhilarating ... The promise of Scratch isn’t that the featured writers will divulge every work-related figure of their careers...But even the loveliest selection about staying true to a financially ruinous inner compass (Sarah Smarsh’s 'The Jump') fades against pieces that bolt practical information to the specificities of circumstance ... One ugly reality Scratch never denies is that luck, and racism, have a tremendous amount to do with the trajectory of a writer’s career ... We’re unlikely to garner much sympathy from society at large, since it’s a society that likes having art around yet believes creation of the same should be labor for love instead of labor for profit. But other writers get it, and one of Scratch’s many gifts is this sense of candid communion.
PositiveThe New Republic...the sensibility of (good) poetry permeates her texts—the language is eclectic, unexpected and exact; the voice singular, idiosyncratic ... Float, as the name suggests, resists calcification on both a micro and macro level. It wants to remain in flux, perhaps because its concepts are too fine to merit certainty’s stillness ... The twenty-two selections of Float seem to be presented as a group because they were unpublished loose ends without any place else to go. There is no indication they were conceived as components of an overarching conversation and yet collectively, they gesture toward one ... Float revels in its splintered state more than any of her previous titles.
PanBookforumValenti takes her problems to be problems all women share. She presents her life as evidence of what even a relatively lucky woman must navigate to survive our society: menacing strangers on the streets, cruel boyfriends in the sheets ... Sex Object is haphazardly organized, a nonchronological sequence of essays in which ideas are sometimes only loosely linked ... The anecdotes in Sex Object are almost all terse and under-explained, as if the bare facts should be damning enough ... In a context of widespread police brutality and mass incarceration, Valenti's tacit assumption that the full power of the state should be brought to bear in these situations alarms me.