Reviews in 200 Words

Archive for the ‘Nonfiction’ Category

Life by Keith Richards

In Fiction, Memoir, Nonfiction on February 2, 2011 at 6:30 pm

After over 40 years on the road with The Rolling Stones it’s expected that Keith Richards would have a lot of stories. But seriously, 500 pages? He must run out of steam, you think. But like the man himself – charting an upward trajectory (“Satisfaction,” “Sympathy for the Devil,” world tours, supermodel wives) with scant speed bumps along the way (“Harlem Shuffle,” heroin) – this is fascinating stuff. The highlights are many, even for readers with only a tangential interest in The Rolling Stones, rock and roll, or how to tune a guitar to open G. There are the essential stories: Keith’s take on Altamont, the making of “Exile on Main Street,” and a detailed chronicle of his on again and (mostly) off again relationship with Mick. There’s Keith’s tips on how to win a knife fight (cut their forehead and run while they bleed in their eyes) and his cold turkey remedy for kicking the junk. Giving it away here won’t ruin it. You’re cracking the cover because you want to hear Keith tell it – to hear that gravely voice blurring the words, recounting the years while the ice clinks in the whiskey glass. It’s all here, and it’s amazing.

 

-Jay Cullis

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Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx

In Memoir on January 7, 2011 at 3:54 am

Meeting an author–especially one whom you admire–is more often than not, a huge disappointment: they’re fatter than you imagined, or shy when their writing’s not, or loud, or awkward, or annoying, or so full of themselves that you kind of wish they’d just pop. Authors are weird. Annie Proulx is weird; but also genuine. There’s something different about meeting Proulx–she’s in her stories. Meaning, everything is real: not true, but real. The land and the history, the animals and the smells and the harsh wind; they exist. She has the ability to put life into stories; and really, maybe that’s what fiction is: less invention and more construction. Proulx doesn’t have the most exciting story herself, but she’s met a lot of characters; she’s stayed herself, and sought out extreme conditions, and a little bit of crazy. These things all live in Wyoming. Knowing where this woman has come from–literally–helps to understand how she crafts the details of her stories. You don’t know what it’s like to dig a well until you’ve done it. You can’t imagine what winter really means until you’ve seen it on the Laramie plains.  


-Micah Ling


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Top Picks for 2010

In Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Top Picks for 2010 on December 31, 2010 at 3:01 am
Many thanks to all of the guest-punch writers!

Novel: Room by Emma Donoghue

Short Story Collection: If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This by Robin Black

Poetry: The Common Man by Maurice Manning

Non-Fiction: Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

Bonus: Nox by Anne Carson 

Iron John by Robert Bly (1992) Reviewed by Jay Cullis

In Examination (Guest Punch by Jay Cullis) on December 22, 2010 at 8:54 pm

Somewhere along the line – and let’s be clear from the get-go that this is a very long line – everyone forgot how to deal with masculinity. We lost track of where it came from and how to express it. We got confused by television commercials explaining how easy and wonderful it is to shave our faces. We listened to preachers who told us to keep it in our pants. We saw how our bosses dressed and bought thousand-dollar suits. We felt out of touch with our wives and girlfriends and we determined to get in touch with our feminine side. Our coaches told us to rub dirt on it, walk it off, be a man. In middle school the shit-talk in the hallways made us sick for caring about art and poetry, music and literature. We were angry at our fathers and didn’t know what to do – how to cry, how to grow up, how to deal with our shame. We forgot how to forgive. We forgot how to say fuck you. We forgot how to care deeply, truly. We forgot about passion and the madness inherent. We forgot, we forgot, we forgot. We forgot it’s okay to be man.


-Jay Cullis


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Decoded by Jay-Z

In Autobiography on December 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm

This man is winning. He continues to win, perhaps, because he came from the bottom: isn’t that what makes a hero? He started with nothing and doesn’t mind talking about it–he’s honest about his flaws, or, at least he comes off that way. His low point was lower than most can imagine and his high point just keeps getting higher. It becomes very clear that this wasn’t some sort of dumb luck, or even someone working really hard at something (though, he probably is working harder than anyone out there): Jay-Z is borderline savant. He knows so much about his art, and his songs are so packed with reason, they’re like jigsaw puzzles–the kind with thousands of tiny pieces. Tiny pieces that fit together. And decoding is exactly what he’s doing—not just his life, but his songs, and his audience. He’s got (at least) two different kinds of craft going here: lyrics and beats. He thinks in mixes. When you step outside of school and have to teach yourself about life, you develop a different relationship to information. This man is a poet, for sure, and who else can change people—can change the world—but the poets? 

-Micah Ling

Earth by Jon Stewart

In Commentary on October 21, 2010 at 2:19 pm

This is mostly silly, of course. But, like everything Jon Stewart and his team (including Sigourney Weaver) do, the sarcasm and wit often unearth the deepest truths. Whether you love Jon Steward (how can you not?) Or hate Jon Stewart (who are you?) You can’t deny that his method is brilliant. Here, he’s combined an actual book–which reads more like a roadmap and a dictionary and a choose-your-own-adventure–with an audio version and a website. His audience is huge, and well fed. Under the premise of a guide for aliens who come to Earth, this (obviously) is a reflection on the current state of our planet, and the ridiculousness of people, in general. We like to think that we’re all pretty different: different values and cultures and food, but when you start getting as far away as, say, Pluto, we all start looking pretty similar—pretty selfish—pretty unintelligent. In classic Stewart fashion, just when you’re having a good laugh at “everyone else,” he forces it back on you: he forces you to consider your role in this place that we all, inevitably, call home. 


-Micah Ling


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Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway by Matt Dellinger

In Non-Fiction on October 7, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Admittedly, a book about a highway seems dull at best, even considering the fortunate (or unfortunate) number assigned to the road. But in this case, there’s quite a bit to the story, and to the stories of the people affected by the road…or even, the potential road. Interstate 69 was baptized in Washington DC, but it was born in the town of Washington, Indiana, as a happy accident hatched over eggs. Dellinger grew up in Indianapolis, and this becomes his story—a narrative of a person who grew up being aware of the unfolding of this highway. Indiana defines itself by the famous people who left it, and by the roads they drove away on. People drive through Indiana. Dellinger offers a look at the rural inadequacy that people almost always zoom past. Unbelievably, people rarely think about the why and how to the places that they inhabit. A road—especially a great highway—is a big deal. The history is complicated; the decision-making process is even more complicated. And it’s necessary that this is personal—because, it is personal: this road and these decisions mean life, or death, as many people know it. 

-Micah Ling

The Professor and the Madman / The Meaning of Everything, both by Simon Winchester

In Double-(guest)-punch...by Katy Welter, Nonfiction on September 1, 2010 at 12:05 pm

The Oxford English Dictionary weighs 135 lbs. Any book that heavy is bound to have a story. Enter Simon Winchester and his two epic tales of the OED’s making, unmaking, and completion. But really, Professor and Meaning tell the story of men who love words. Winchester, whose style marries Victorian formality with engaging familiarity, loves words. James Murray, the OED’s thirty-six-year shepherd and editor, and Dr. William C. Minor, live words. From his perch in a British insane asylum, Minor, an American and Civil War surgeon, extracts words from countless books delivered to his cell. Minor suffered extreme, violent schizophrenia–he murdered a man, and, later cut off his own penis–but his submissions to the OED were exquisite, thorough, and constant. Until Murray visited Dr. Minor, presuming the doctor worked at the asylum, he had no idea of his greatest contributor’s illness. Subsequently, Murray honored him by disregarding his state. Murray needed intensely focused, luminous men to capture the English language–to pin down and preserve this dynamic, living thing. These books, really two volumes, pay tribute to the long project. The life’s work. The indelible print of words. And Murray was working from bed when he died. The entry for “turn-down.” 

-Katy Welter

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston and Mario Spezi

In Journalism/True-crime on August 25, 2010 at 1:51 pm

A particular light shines on a country’s legal system when an outsider takes a look. Taken for granted by locals, inherent intricacies are exposed as illogical. Rights and responsibility seem like afterthoughts. Justice feels moribund, unobtainable. And our sights keep turning toward our own tipped scales.

Next thing you know you’re making sure the skeletons in the closet are better hidden than they had been.

The most notorious serial killer case in Italy is almost unknown in America, so it’s one riveting surprise after another when American thriller writer Douglas Preston and Italian journalist Mario Spezi collaborate. Fourteen lovers stalked and killed in the Florentine hillside. The crime scenes point at the same brutal, precise, and sexually impotent killer. But this isn’t “Silence of the Lambs” with a Tuscan twist.  With only enough evidence for a theory, the Italian judicial system arrests, convicts, and ruins a motley cast of innocents. Careers need building; resumes need padding, and so much face-saving results in so many miscarriages of justice.

“Law and Order” would have us believe there are always clues, and that justice is always served. But evil isn’t so easy to arrest.

-Jay Cullis

Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain

In Memoir on August 19, 2010 at 2:43 am

Anthony Bourdain is the definition of cool: he’s old enough to be sexy and flawed, and he knows just how to use the word “fuck” without overdoing it. He’s a seasoned chef, traveler and storyteller; and, as it turns out, writer. He writes like he talks: matter-of-factly, bluntly. Like watching No Reservations, you just get the feeling that he’s telling the truth–that he’s got nothing to hide. And when he’s talking about food and cooking, he’s talking about life; “there’s a gulf the size of an ocean between adequate and finesse.” It’s true: food is art. He might convince you that pho in Hanoi is on par with sex, or, better than sex: unconditional love. He will convince you that the simplest things (spaghetti alla bottarga in Sardina matched with a local red) are what it’s all about. This is better than porn, “when you ask the proprietor where the wine comes from, he points to an old man sitting in the corner reading a soccer magazine, a cigarette dangling from his lips. ‘It came from him,’ he says.” Plus, he gives huge props to Jim Harrison: a man who admires food and wine almost as much as language. Yes, Tony, well done: you’ve learned so much, about food and life. 

-Micah Ling