Book Review: Selfish, Shallow & Self Absorbed

Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids — edited by Meghan Daum

As Daum writes in the introduction, her “lack of desire to have children felt hardwired from birth, almost like sexual orientation or gender identity” and reading this rang my bell. From an early age I wasn’t interested in having children. Other girls would see babies and toddlers and dissolve into gushing and cooing; they’d rush in. I, on the other hand, would stand back, silent, bewilderingly unmoved and waiting for it to be over. The odd time—if I’m in the mood for trying to disguise my disinterest—I’ll try to engage with the baby or toddler by smiling or making funny faces or uttering unconvincing approximations of maternal glee, but most often I get the blank, cool-eyed response. You can’t fool the wee ones, they know an impostor when they see one.

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Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

20150826_133410long-awaited fiction by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird is Harper Lee’s first and now-canonical novel and I wanted to love the sequel, Go Set a Watchman, just as much. I got my hands on a copy as soon as I could and planned to devote an entire evening to the event. The evening came, I poured a glass of red wine and tucked into the book. The first chapter was polished and strong and I was delighted to be in the author’s company again. But then, disappointment set in. Gradually the plot became indulgent, superfluous and seemingly aimless. There were pages upon pages of dialogue so slow and boring it made me feel the oppressive southern heat, and I’m pretty sure this wasn’t intentional. By page 100, there was little or no evidence—subtle or otherwise—of rising tension or meaningful plot implications. And that’s where I stopped reading. Sorry to say, but Go Set A Watchman, Lee’s long-awaited second novel, does not warrant all the hype.

Book Review: Bear

fiction by Marian Engel

Though Bear was first published in 1976 it’s still being talked about so I felt compelled to read it. Bear won the Canadian Governor General’s Award and this is partly because the bestiality was clothed in some correct CanLit attire: the requisite references to myth (none of which were satisfying) and the intertextuality of the library setting. At the heart of the plot is a fallacy that blocked my full appreciation of the qualities for which the book has been lauded. A tour de force, said the New York Times. A startlingly alive narrative of the forbidden, said the Washington Post. Canada’s Lolita or Lady Chatterley’s Lover, said the Globe and Mail. Margaret Atwood called it “a strange and wonderful book, plausible as kitchens, but shapely as a folktale, and with the same disturbing resonance.”

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Book Review: Between You and Me, Confessions of a Comma Queen

non-fiction by Mary Norris 

A fun, informative read for the writer dweebs, written by New York Times copy editor Mary Norris who’s spent 30 years in the trenches of the English language. If, like me, your brain falls into a coma when the rules of grammar are described, this book is an antidote. You’ll learn that somewhere along the way we all became worried about sounding like uneducated boors and adopted the You and I reflex. But here’s the lowdown: that is incorrect, it’s perfectly correct to say You and me. Norris’s helpful rule: “Maybe it would help if people practiced, like singers vocalizing: Between you and mi-mi-mi-mi-mi.”

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Book Review: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

non-fiction by Jon Ronson

A timely subject given the unmediated power of social media, a survey of some of the ways the shame monster breathes its foul breath upon our lives. The book is a quickie tour, though, so readers looking for a deep-end analysis are likely to be disappointed. Ronson’s reportage can be amusing, as in his description of himself as the “tweedy and owl-like” observer in a San Francisco Kink factory. I know that writing a book entails too much solitude and a lot of ass-numbing work so I guess it’s hard to blame the guy for slipping some kink tourism into the research budget. For all the good it did him, though, the sexual atmosphere must have overwhelmed because the tweedy owl’s observations about shame fell short of relevant.

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