It's been a crazy month or two (death and dying, etc.) and I have been reading but haven't had time to review. So brief, better-late-than-never reviews.
John Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath
I have been wanting to reread Steinbeck but haven't been able to find my copies of Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden. I was super excited when I found the same version of Grapes of Wrath that I had always had- not the one pictured- at a used bookstore. Somehow I had forgotten the plot, just the Depression-era stuff. I had also forgotten Steinbeck's unique writing style. Honestly, although I'm glad I reread the book, I wasn't as excited about it as I was last time. It was eminently readable- Steinbeck writes as beautifully as you would expect a humble blogger like me to say- but the plot was not as moving or as heart wrenching as I remember. Maybe it's because Steinbeck has become so engrained in our national truth? Maybe it's because it's not dramatic like we now expect our fiction to be? Maybe it's because I don't read fiction? I mean, I feel like a terrible person saying that I was only hmmm about a Steinbeck book- as a reader, as a former Steinbeck worshipper, as an American? How inappropriate!
C.J. Pascoe: Dude You're a Fag This is an amazing books for Dorks Like Me interested in education, queer studies, gender studies, etc. It's probably a terrible book for anyone else- a book like the ones you read in college and were like, who READS this stuff? I actually found it super readable, but, like I said, I'm a big, fat, dork. Pascoe studied kids at a generic high school for a year and looked at the intersection of masculinity, sexuality and race and class. She found that really, all those kids yelling "you're a fag" at each other, aren't really saying "you're so gay" in the way us older people might think. They're actually establishing and re-establishing masculinity. And, of course, she calls out most looks at this subject as over-simplified: some groups at the school got to "play" with masculinity and sexuality in ways that others didn't/couldn't/wouldn't. Black boys and girls could play on the margins of acceptable/defined roles in different ways than white boys and girls, although still in prescribed ways, for the most part. She also scathingly points out how the public school creates and reinforces heterosexuality and traditional gender roles through school rituals- things like requiring the boys to wear suits and the girls to wear low-cut dresses in their school pictures, and in outrageously (hetero)sexual skits to compete for the equivalent of Senior King and Queen. Worth a read if you're into this stuff!
Roz Chast: Can't we talk about something more Pleasant? Roz Chast is a genius. You know her cartoons from the New Yorker. This graphic novel (I know- what IS a graphic novel when it's a memior? We've talked about this!) is wonderful. It was timely and awful- I haven't decided if people should read about death and dying when dealing with death and dying. Chast dealt with the death of her parents- she wasn't close to them- and then graphic novel-ed about it. She is harsh on herself, and honest about her parents, and the difficulty in the whole process. It's not an easy process, and that's what is so great about it- the memoir is honest and you want to laugh- not just because it's cartoons- but because it's just so real. It's a fast read, and I didn't want it to end. I wanted to keep having a friend to read about.
Christopher Hayes: Twilight of the Elites My dad and I often note that wonderful New Yorker authors don't always make great book writers- the long form of article writing doesn't always translate to a full-length book. It's my understanding that Christopher Hayes hosts a show on MSNBC (I don't watch TV except for binge watching on Hulu). He may be a great TV host, and he's a very smart guy, but he's not quite ready for full length books. "Twilight of the Elites" is a really interesting book with a great premise and wonderful promise but poor execution. I really wanted to finish it, so I did, but it took me forever, and I can't even remember what I read. Essentially, he argues against the concept of a meritocracy. The meritocracy "allows everyone to imagine the possibility of deliverance, to readily conjure the image of a lavish and wildly successful future. So that even if the number of kids from the South Bronx who end up at Goldman Sachs is trivial, even if the number of college grads from rural America who get into Harvard Law School is vanishingly small, the dream of accomplishment for our own children is the one thing we all share." The dream of the meritocracy holds sway for both right and left- we all want to win because we're good! And the idea of America being founded on a meritocracy (an anachronism from last century) is useful to us- we want to believe in the people who run the country because we want to believe that they deserve to be there. Hayes explains (and it might be wishful thinking) that America is actually run by an elite- the 1%- who didn't really get there out of merit. Now we resent this elite and mistrust them- and all of our institutions that we need to trust- and we've got a problem. (Problems like people not vaccinating their children because doctors can't be trusted, problems like not believing in global warming because scientists can't be trusted, problems like government mistrusting experts because they're experts and going to war on bad information.) This book is a good compliment to (and mentions!) The Spirit Level. It's not, however, a great read. Sadly.