MixedThe BafflerMontell...takes the reader on a brisk, chatty, and sympathetically even-handed (sometimes overly so) tour through the widely varied forms that cultishness can take, and the role that language plays in cults’ magnetic power ... Montell perceptively connects the willingness with which people fall into such cultish traps with the lingering influence of the Protestant Ethic ... One significant flaw in Cultish’s structure is that since Montell tacks easily from chapter topic to chapter topic, it can feel like she puts each form of cultish behavior on more or less the same level. Jonestown was truly horrific, involving the violent death of hundreds of people. Scientology’s treatment of its lower members is evidently dangerous to their mental and physical health. But getting yelled at by an autocratic yoga instructor in an overheated room isn’t remotely comparable to mass suicide. Montell doesn’t explicitly intend to equate these experiences, but putting them side-by-side in chapters unintentionally lumps a lot of varied cultish behavior together. She also doesn’t explore as deeply as she could the implications of what linguists call \'the theory of performativity\' ... As long as there are human frailties like insecurity, anxiety, and the need to belong, and a culture that exacerbates these perfectly normal human emotions for some kind of gain, there will be cults. Montell understands this, and to her credit, she doesn’t condemn or mock all the poor lost souls who get swept up in the momentum.
RaveArts FuseOwed , his second collection, reinforces this rookie preeminence by proffering more of his virtuosic technical skill, subtle wit, and cinematographic eye for vibrant scene-setting ... The substance of these masterfully wrought poems aren’t always pretty. Every exquisitely crafted line reflects the pull of a threatening body politic, the gravitational force of history. Nevertheless, there are moments of transcendence, the result of Bennett’s alchemical ability to turn the raw pulp of life into exquisite verse ... Bennett’s allegiance to radical honesty, along with bone-deep commitment to the people who raised him, has shaped his unique voice ... Bennett’s poems don’t shy away from precisely rendering the ugliness of world as it is, but they also know how and when to offer some respite, a moment of grace.
Kristin Kobes Du Mez
PositiveThe BafflerDu Mez argues, using an extensive amount of research, that white evangelical culture often glorifies the aggressive, patriarchal idea of manhood, which has become intertwined with what it means to be a conservative Christian in the modern age ... One of the book’s subtle insights is that being evangelical isn’t just about agreeing to a certain set of theological principles—that’s just where the rest of the lifestyle management begins ... One of the book’s missed opportunities is a more thorough exploration of the prosperity gospel, or the bizarre notion that, as one book put it, \'Jesus Wants You to Be Rich.\' If ultra-manliness is the goal, then for Americans raised on the Protestant ethic money is the means to that worldly end ... Du Mez makes it clear that she’s not criticizing from the ivory tower or explicitly from the left. A history professor at a prominent Christian college, the author of A New Gospel for Women and a contributor to Christianity Today, she’s in an ideal position to expose the hypocrisy, crudeness, and chauvinism of the religious right. When she considers her deep roots in an Iowa city that welcomed a Trump rally with open arms, her personal pain speaks volumes about what’s really been lost amid the religious right’s rush to pound their chests and make Jesus Great Again
PositiveThe BafflerUnlike those who write dry, hyper-specialized academic criticism, Marcus isn’t afraid, as one reader of his once put it, to let \'everything remind him of everything else\' ... This intuitive collage of different voices can offer the reader insights that aren’t available otherwise. At his best, Marcus guides the reader through the secret cultural histories that wind under the shiny billboard of American life, where so much of the country’s real thinking about itself really happens. Other times, the reader is left wandering aimlessly through Marcus’s extended digressions about movies or records that they might not know or care about much ... Marcus reminds us what a collective slap in the face Tom’s assertion of hereditary dominance really is to the way America likes to think of itself.
RaveHarvard ReviewSøren Kierkegaard, the subject of a recent book by English philosopher Clare Carlisle, Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard, poses an interesting biographical challenge precisely because he was one of the greatest introverts of all time ... Philosopher of the Heart isn’t a cheat sheet for Kierkegaard’s theories. Instead, we have an evocative, novelistic portrait of what Kierkegaard’s life was like ... The book speaks to readers whether they are familiar with Kierkegaard or not, since it doesn’t moralize or over-explain its subject’s life choices but instead presents him in all his flawed, angst-ridden, incorrigible humanity.
Rodaan Al Galidi, Trans. by Jonathan Reeder
PositiveWords Without Borders...an engrossing and exasperating novel ...The first of Al Galidi’s works to be translated into English, the book straddles the line between fiction and memoir as it draws on the author’s own experience as a refugee in the Netherlands to construct a tale defined by protracted delays and seemingly endless waiting ... Although written as a novel, Al Galidi’s book often resembles an eyewitness’s critique of international refugee law and institutions, written with equal amounts of earnestness and style. His is a dogged assertion of the personality and humor of the contemporary immigrant ... Al Galidi wrote the novel in Dutch, which he taught himself despite being forbidden to attend language classes as an undocumented asylum seeker. Two Blankets, Three Sheets is a work of clean, spare prose, written in a matter-of-fact tone. The story sometimes feels less like a narrative than an essay, meandering through loose threads of thought toward a resolution as anticlimactic as much of the plot, or lack thereof. It is a labor of patience as dogged, we may think, as the experience of waiting for asylum for nine years.
PositiveThe Arts Fuse...a slim but sensitive and elegantly written novel that packs a lot into a relatively small space ... Greenwell knows what he’s doing. We are placed in the middle of the narrator’s struggle with language, to articulate the kinds of longing he feels ... In Cleanness, this embrace of existential uncertainty enhances the reading experience because it helps us to understand what’s vitally important to the narrator. In some ways, Greenwell is probing beyond what mere biographical facts would disclose. His deceptively smooth and lucid sentences suggest multitudes ... The exotic terrain (the author must have assumed that most readers wouldn’t know anything about Bulgaria) becomes an effective way to instigate the novel’s focus: the minute observation of interior shifts in mood.
RaveThe BafflerLittle Boy, an uncategorizable stream-of-consciousness bildungsroman offers an inspiriting case study of keeping the blessed callings of poetry, art, and political radicalism alive by example ... What Little Boy and Ferlinghetti’s poetry makes clear is his commitment to language above all else. Ferlinghetti’s long poetic career provides a wonderful example of how a poet can dance along the line between obscurity and accessibility ... this book offers a stellar example of how to reach out to the reader in good faith, using fairly clear and uncomplicated language, to offer some cheerful subversion along with the wonder at existence ... Ferlinghetti is a learned fellow, to be sure, but his references and range of experience are vast and stretches beyond the library; he’s also an accomplished painter and has traveled extensively, getting involved in progressive struggles across the globe ... Ferlinghetti’s work and life serve as useful reminders that radical poetics are really as American as jazz, baseball, and the atomic bomb.