PositivePop MattersNothing that Rushkoff writes in this clipped, angry book should surprise most readers. Nobody who has spent any time tracking the pronouncements and feuds of the more futurist-minded tech elites would think many had a high opinion of or interest in improving the daily lot of carbon-based life forms. Though predictable and at times a bit too broadly defined, the depth of anti-humanist sentiment related by Rushkoff is still harrowing and illuminating ... Although this of-the-moment book contains little context dating back more than three decades, Rushkoff does not try to claim everything about the Mindset is new. He points instead to how illogical power fantasies have merged with an Ayn Randian cult of the solitary hero and been nurtured by the Web’s seductive capacity for self-aggrandizing mythmaking. Given how much he may have contributed to those seductions, he is the right messenger ... loses some of its impact when delivering suggestions for how to push back (don’t give in to the inevitability of doom, buy local, fight for anti-monopoly laws). That is partly because it is difficult for them to seem equal to the magnitude of the problem. But for Rushkoff, the smallness of the solutions is part of the point.
PositiveStar TribuneThe atmosphere of boredom, longing and the desire for something greater has only become more pronounced ... With their mild manners and dialogue of bland pleasantries...frequently hiding uglier perversities, they seem almost like robotic caricatures of small-town Midwesterners by way of David Lynch. This impression is highlighted by Drnaso\'s style, which emphasizes flatly inexpressive features and hauntingly empty landscapes ... It\'s possible that Acting Class relies almost too much on its inarguably surprising and disturbing reveal to cap things off. But his careful building of suspense and overpoweringly eerie mood makes the long build worthwhile well before the final and powerfully cinematic twist.
RavePopMattersDensely detailed, panoramic, and eye-opening ... Decades of intrigue that Kirchick lays out in vivid prose ... Secret City takes readers through the betrayals, repression, vilification, and subterfuge that defined gay life in Washington’s corridors of power from the 1930s until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Though dramatically recounting the passing decades’ broader cultural and political tides, and admirably achieving Kirchick’s stated goal of not segregating \'gay history\' but integrating it into American history, the book is largely a story of individuals and the prices they paid for their secrets.
RavePopMattersReading Fintan O’Toole’s transporting We Don’t Know Ourselves is an experience close to hunger; even at 600-plus pages, there is so much richness here you want to gulp it right down ... It’s an epic story that O’Toole tells through both sweeping narratives and intimate detail ... Ireland’s nearly unfathomable historical lacunae points to one of O’Toole’s themes about all the things the Ireland of his youth did not want to know. This framing of Irishness will be confusing for many readers, who take the country’s vaunted storytelling tradition at face value. The Irish spirit, as conveyed through its literature, revels in the richness of language, gutsy wrangling with the fundamentals of life, and the willingness to say it all. The confounding part—at least for those of us who, even if able to claim membership in the island’s world-spanning diaspora, have never lived among the Irish—comes from O’Toole’s description of the things that his famously loquacious people do not say ... O’Toole is even more cutting when describing Ireland’s relationship with the IRA’s terror campaign waged against Britain and their own countrymen to the north. These sections are the closest he comes to disgust, laying out a lengthy indictment of the IRA’s war crimes and a skillful fileting of their supporters’ hypocrisy ... While O’Toole laces into some targets with icy sarcasm, he is overall a generous and sympathetic observer, with an appreciation for human inconsistency ... We Don’t Know Ourselves lucidly illustrates the Ireland that was and the \'blank and bleak\' future its people thought was ahead of them.
Barbara F. Walter
RavePopMattersAlthough Walter is very clear about the clear and present danger posed by a right-wing insurgency, she does not engage in the sectarian scaremongering sometimes indulged by the American left. In her conclusion, she proposes a positive rather than punitive approach ... There is a future where How Civil Wars Start could be remembered as eerily prescient. The best that Walter and the rest of us can hope for is that her book helped make its message ultimately irrelevant.
MixedPopMattersThough McWhorter’s book does not fulfill the promise of its premise, it is at least an actual argument, not something sketched out on a napkin in the Fox News green room and passed off to a ghostwriter with a talent for trolling the libs ... Woke Racism has the feel of something written in a blaze of indignation between podcasts, which is both a strength and a weakness of the text ... McWhorter’s primary complaint is that the first [\'woke\'] audience is under the sway of an ideology that purports to lift up the second but which only distorts and damages. This is a stinging argument and one that ultimately makes Woke Racism a worthwhile read. McWhorter is at his most convincing when making the case for a very simple yet crucial demand: The right of black people to be and to be seen as individuals. It’s something he believes that the Elect’s \'theology\' does not allow for ... His speedy pace often whips the reader past points that could have used elucidation ... A fast-paced read, Woke Racism covers...controversial issues with a dashing sense of snark occasionally gnarled by outrage ... Woke Racism stumbles quite often in its scramble and anger. But when it shines, it does so brilliantly.
PositiveThe Star Tribune... [an] immersive, novelistic and intensely humanistic book-length graphic essay ... the book curls through autobiographical episodes ranging from her Wisconsin suburban childhood to New York adulthood in which Radtke illustrates both the loneliness of physical solitude and of crowds. These make up some of the book\'s lovelier sections with Radtke\'s enigmatic text contrasting with her richly precise, Chris Ware-ian illustrations of darkened buildings illuminated by bright rectangular windows framing people in solitude ... Some of the more personal moments in Seek You feel only tenuously connected ... But most help to illustrate the wider and richer geography of disconnection that she explores in a work whose aching, keening sense of humanity is almost as powerful as its evocative artwork. There is so much empathy in Radtke\'s approach, she can even muster up sympathy for Harry Harlow...who most would call a monster ... Radtke\'s approach here purposefully mirrors that of those ham radio operators sending CQ signals out into the void, not necessarily with anything to say but just wanting to connect.
MixedPopMattersReaders...will find two Ferguson on display. Besides the conservative columnist...the serious, if sometimes wrong-headed historian, is also in attendance ... He wants to discuss what lessons to take from how different societies have responded to disasters and how to avoid both \'self-flagellating chaos\' and calls for \'totalitarian rule or world government.\' Though he hits the first target with reasonable accuracy, he misses the second by an almost comically wide margin ... This is a realist\'s point of view, in which history still features villains, just more diffuse ones, such as \'bureaucratic sclerosis\' ... Much of what Ferguson writes about the COVID pandemic and the modern era would have benefited from a greater distance as it often feels off-the-cuff, churlish, and better suited for a Twitter hot take ... Though never lacking for engaging material...Doom suffers from a lack of focus...glibness...a certain post-9/11 imperial arrogance that clashes with his focus elsewhere on the necessity of clarity and humility ... he should be careful what he wishes for.
RaveThe Star TribuneAlison Bechdel finally turns her gaze on herself, with beautiful results ... As ever, Bechdel satirizes and analyzes herself with a sharp, knowing, but affectionate touch that is observant without being solipsistic. This is a thoughtful, funny and ruminative autobiography whose intensity is leavened with surprising notes of grace.
Yang Jisheng trans. by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian
MixedPopMatters... [a] great slab of a book ... Scrupulous in his detailing of the Cultural Revolution\'s horrors and insanities, Jisheng often fails to explain just how such a thing came about. The numbers and dry descriptions of atrocities stun but also numb. He explains the god-like status that Mao was held in, and goes into quite lengthy detail about the behind-the-scenes Beijing machinations that started as power plays between varying Mao rivals and sycophants before rippling out into China proper ... But too much of the book is spent on palace intrigue and not nearly enough on the devastation and trauma that this decade-long eruption of mass violence and erasure of culture inflicted on the people who survived. By quoting one of the perpetrators of the Daoxian massacre answering an official questioner years later and describing how bureaucrats felt safer over- than under-reacting to rumors of reactionaries, Jisheng shows the extent of the fanaticism. But he never illuminates just how Mao and his clique turned so much of the country so savage so quickly ... Although The World Turned Upside Down is a staggering piece of documentation, it still often misses the intimate scope which would have helped bring this epic tale to life. There are times when Jisheng\'s writing resembles that of a court document ... a necessary book, and it\'s an admirable attempt to get the record down. But that does not keep it from resembling a massive research archive with crucial information, rather than a work of human-scale history.
RavePopMattersSometimes the books delivering the most chilling message can be the most hopeful. These are the authors who are clear-eyed about the problem they are addressing while also refusing to throw their hands up in despair. They want to both level with the reader and provide real-world answers. It\'s a difficult balancing act, but one that authors like Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie pull off ... an infuriatingly necessary read ... While Currie shares the depth of Du Bois\' concern, he does not indulge in polemics. An academic sociologist and criminologist who serves up tranches of data to support his points, Currie lets numbers, rather than rhetoric, do the work. And what his numbers show is a crisis with no signs of abating. Especially as long as the country turns a blind eye to it.
PositivePopMattersHopefully, Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson\'s bracing and thoughtful new book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents will help the country see itself not as a projection of wish fulfillment but closer to its true form ... Caste is a more personal, pointillist look at how this history is lived by those who experience it ... Caste is another in a series of gauntlets that writers have been throwing to the ground to contest the many perniciously persistent myths around race and class in America. Time will tell whether enough people are willing to pick it up and accept Wilkerson\'s challenge to see clearly at least some version of what the social hierarchy truly is.
RaveThe Star TribuneIt has been more than 10 years since Joe Sacco has produced a full-length work. Not to suggest that one of our greatest living graphic journalists should make a habit of taking that much time off (he should not), but the wait has been worth it. Paying the Land is an immersive exploration of the Northwest Territories’ native Dene people that casts its net across a broad panoply of topics while still hewing to the granular detail (maps, diagrams, footnotes) that make Sacco’s work so rewarding ... sympathetic without depriving the Dene of agency ... Drawing himself as somewhat more grizzled than in previous works, Sacco continues to use his flustered presence for self-deprecating jabs of humor. Rather than just trying to lighten a dark subject, though, he also does so to undercut the idea that he is an expert. One of Sacco’s greatest gifts is bringing readers into his learning, making us feel that we are somehow part of it rather than passive observers.
Tian Veasna, Trans. by Helge Dasche
PositiveStar TribuneTian Veasna’s swiftly paced, overwhelming graphic memoir of the Cambodian genocide begins and ends with a family tree ... Veasna grapples with the horrors of the Khmer regime in a bracingly direct fashion that avoids sentimentality or violence voyeurism ... The uncertainty, dread and scarred triumphs that thrum through Veasna’s book would affect readers at any time. But its depiction of a suddenly upended people grabbing supplies and response to an omnipresent and evolving threat on the fly will feel chillingly familiar to today’s pandemic-rattled audience.
MixedPopMattersThis is par for the course with Gibson. As in many of his books, the action flits from one setting to another in a back-and-forth of short chapters filled with clipped dialogue that falls somewhere between Raymond Chandler and bleeding-edge tech industry corpo-speak. This all works well enough. Until it doesn\'t ... At some point too early on in Agency, Eunice drops out of the picture. At that point, it becomes clear that her and Verity\'s chummy if AI-inflected badinage...was the most energizing part of the story. Without it, Verity becomes something of a random element, bouncing from one character and setting to another like a player in a poorly understood open-world game, while the Londoners pull strings, try to keep Qamishli from going nuclear, and laze about in meticulously designed interiors.
PositivePopMatters... lucid, bleak, and hypnotic ... [Wiener\'s] habit of not naming any of the firms that come up initially seems perversely stubborn but ultimately lends the narrative an effectively unrooted, foggy, and timeless atmosphere ... Wiener writes with a slightly acerbic and cool detachment about all this hazy California Dreaming that calls to mind early Joan Didion. But she threads that with her generation\'s habitual self-doubt and second-guessing ... While accumulation of warning signs can feel like precursors to a killing in an over-obvious horror movie—Wiener\'s honest depiction of wanting to be carried along, goggle-eyed, by the torrent of money and ambition is understandable and relatable ... After all, who doesn\'t want to be the writer who scores an invite to the last blowout dinner party before the fall?
PositivePop MattersBender takes a clever idea and runs with it as well as can be expected, being more focused on how one particular life-changing event affects her protagonist rather than on its repercussions for the wider world ... It\'s frightening at times, rewarding at others, layering a rich tapestry of wonder and fright over her life, one that Bender renders with an exquisitely textured language. The book veers into a sort of foodie emotional nirvana at times -- one can imagine lovers of the Eat, Pray, Love school of writing desperately pining for Rose\'s ability to merge tastebuds and emotion -- and it ruins no surprise to tell that she eventually finds work in a kitchen ... For Bender, it\'s not the knowing why something has come about which seems important, but the witnessing how one comes through it that matters.
Jim Ottaviani, Illus. by Leland Myrick
RaveThe Star TribuneOttaviani’s dense but highly readable account braids the implacable advance of Hawking’s ALS with his determination to not let his impaired body imprison his beautiful mind. Stops along the way provide helpful side notes on subjects such as relativity to ease understanding of the awesomely brain-twisting reality screws that the book indulges. All of this brightly illustrates the universe-spanning leaps Hawking’s mind took even while his body was confined to a motorized wheelchair and his voice replicated via computer monotone. This might be an illustrated biography, but it’s no children’s book ... details help humanize a man too often remembered for what he did and not who he was.
MixedThe Minneapolis Star TribuneLust’s tortured quest for a bohemian life of the mind and an untenable romance encompassing \'the perfect companion and the perfect lover at the same time\' may irritate some less patient readers. But those who have felt even a hint of Lust’s heady romantic yearnings will be jolted by the spotting of a kindred spirit.
George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, Illus. by Harmony Becker
PositiveThe Star TribuneTakei marries pragmatic optimism and wily cheer with a steely moralism. That mixture is on full display in this charged account ... While locating beauty in the pain, and noting how the camps accidentally protected them from civilian racism, Takei doesn’t go the \'Life Is Beautiful\' route ... a dramatic history lesson, cleanly told and unafraid to link the sins of the past with those of the present.
Charlie Jane Anders
RaveRain Taxi...[a] bristling and vivid book. The planet of January is a splendidly imagined world of terror and beauty ... The plotting and dialogue of The City in the Middle of the Night are somewhat haphazard, though the chaos has its own momentum ... Anders even dashes the action with some blackly comic absurdity ... As a onetime editor of the website io9, Anders knows her way around the science fiction genre and then some. It is possible that imbibing so much in the field left her with a surfeit of ideas, which seem to spill out of her novel’s pages ... But Anders remains a fiery original, a perilously rare thing in today’s remake and remix culture.
Esme Weijun Wang
PositiveMinneapolis Star Tribune\"Wang writes with lucid clarity about the \'fresh hell in my brain\' and forgoing raising children with her husband due to the risk that \'I could be psychotic again at any moment\' ... Richly descriptive in these sections, her writing is dotted with a battle-hardened humor ... Threaded through Wang’s fractured yet cohesive and empathy-sparking narrative is the awareness that as frightening as the hallucinated voices are to those like her, they terrify others and threaten social ostracization ... harrowing and heartfelt...\
PositivePopMatters\"As in his last novel, the alternately ribald and gloomy A Brief History of Seven Killings... James takes his time getting to the central storyline, wrapping the plot in atmosphere, legend, hyperbole, and good old-fashioned bullshitting. Black Leopard, Red Wolf has that same hesitation about getting to the crux of things, though this time it\'s even more pronounced ... It\'s an exhausting start to a series, with much to unpack and many dark paths to get lost on ... Here\'s hoping James keeps strange-ing this world.\
PanPopMatters...now the presidential pretender\'s shadow looms over literature, to the detriment of us all ... One gets the sense from the start of Gary Shteyngart\'s Lake Success that this is going to be something of a status report on the nation ... Lake Success doesn\'t fail because Barry is such an unappealing character. It doesn\'t help that far too much of the novel is taken over by accounts of him flinging himself with increasingly sweaty desperation at one person or another, looking for succor or absolution. The stink of rank embarrassment, humiliation, and forced comedy wafts pungently off the pages but without much sting, like a Smell-o-Vision Ben Stiller movie or dinner-theater A Confederacy of Dunces ... It\'s difficult to tell what Shteyngart is going for here. It\'s possible he wasn\'t quite sure himself.