Snooze fest…. This book by David von Drehle chronicles the worst workplace disaster in US history prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
On March 25, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in Greenwich Village caught fire and 140 people (mostly young women) perished because the factory was basically a giant sweatshop and not safe for its workers. When the fire broke out on the 8th floor, there was no escape route because one of the two exit doors were locked (to prevent theft by the workers), the fire escape collapsed and at that time in history – fire ladders on fire trucks only reached up to the sixth floor and most of the women that perished were located on the 9th floor.
For anyone interested in US history particularly about Tammany Hall, the labor movement and the social reform movement in the early 20th century, this book is probably a great read. I could imagine reading it in a college course on US politics from 1910 through 1940 but as a reading book for pleasure – I found it very boring. David von Drehle did extensive research on Tammany Hall and all the political figures involved in the rise of the labor union movement and gives (what I thought) was excruciating detail about the labor movement prior to the fire and then the effect the fire had on changing workplace safety and labor law in America. The section of the book that typically would hold the most interest for me was about the victims of the fire. But even then I found that von Drehle’s description of the victims was from an antiseptic, research standpoint – i.e. Maxine was 23 years old and came from Minsk, Russa and worked as a button sewer in the factory.
I do give the author credit because prior to this book – there was not a definitive and encompassing book which documented the actual fire and it’s after-effects. By publishing this book when there was still some family members and even survivors alive that von Drehle could speak with, he ensured that this disaster would always be remembered as a signficant event in 20th century American history.
Gary Benchley, Rock Star by Paul Ford is niche fiction at its finest. It is a book about indie rock/the new hipster-ism written from an insider’s perspective. What to call it? Alterna-fiction? The book is filled with so many insider indie rock references, that the official web site contains a glossary, just so you poseurs can keep up.
I first read about this book on Neal Pollack’s blog. Neil says the book may “stand as the most accurate document of New York City’s hipster era”. What I didn’t catch in Neil’s post – and only found out about after reading the book – is that a version of the book was serialized on The Morning News web site – those same cats hosting the Tournament of Books. Their version portrayed Gary Benchley as a real person blogging about getting started as an indie rocker in Brooklyn. A lot of humorless fans were apparently pissed off when the “hoax” was revealed. The good news was Paul Ford got a book deal out of it. Read more »
So now that I spend 2 1/2 hours a day on the train to and from the Big Apple – I have been doing a lot of reading. The problem is getting the time to post. So rather than stressing about blogging the wittiest and most insightful book reviews – I am just going to give a brief synopsis and my thoughts on my three most recent books.
Night by Elie Wiesel
This is Oprah’s most recent selection after her debacle of Million Little Pieces and it is a reprint of Wiesel’s most famous book with a new translation by his wife. This book recalls Wiesel’s childhood during the Holocaust. It begins towards the beginning of the war when Wiesel’s family (like so many others) were in denial that anything could happen to them and quickly progresses through their internment in the ghetto and then their deportation to Auschwitz and Birkenau. It is an extremely powerful book and has been haunting me ever since I read it. Read more »
In The Tournament of Books, the book that we read has once again beaten the book that we didn’t, which makes us look much smarter than we are. Our NCAA brackets should look this good. If history is a guide, Home Land by Sam Lipsyte will easily crush that book we didn’t read in tomorrow’s round (our take on Home Land).
Our man on the inside, Roosevelt Franklin, passes along the news of a preliminary new study that finds that High Times does not appear to be “a gateway magazine to harder readings”. The White House Office of National Reading Control Policy disputes the findings:
We’ve all heard horror stories of young people not being able to put down Gravity’s Rainbow. Thanks to book kingpins like Barnes & Noble, more and more Americans—even kids—are gaining wider access to stronger, more potent reading material.
Speaking of High Times, I came across this sign by the side of the road on my way to Selma, Alabama this week:
The 2006 Tournament of Books is finally underway, with two rounds having been completed. So far, The History of Love by Nicole Krauss has bettered The Time in Between by Dave Bergen and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer pummeled Veronica by Mary Gaitskill. To recap: The books that we have read: 2. The books we have not read: 0. Which validates something or another. You can read the judges reviews at the Morning News. Our takes on History of Love are here and here; our takes on Extremely Loud are here, here, and here. Their review of the History of Love round was pretty insipid. Anyway, the next round will feature Krauss vs. Foer, which is interesting because they are married – I doubt they are losing sleep over it. I’d go with Extremely Loud, but they are not asking me. That round is being judged by Jessa from Bookslut, and I predict that she will hate them both. Gambling Tip: She will pick Krauss because she hates Foer more. Tomorrow’s match up pits Never Let Me Down by Ishiguro (our comments here and here) vs. The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole by Stephanie Doyan. Gambling Tip 2: We’ve read Ishiguro’s book but not Doyan’s – and our record speaks for itself. Gamble accordingly.
Yesterday, work took me to Milledgeville, which was the Capital of Georgia during the Civil War. Along the way I got a speeding ticket in Eatonton. Eatononton, it turns out, is famous for being the birth place of both Alice Walker (The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar, etc.) and Joel Candler Harris, journalist and author of the Unlce Remus stories – a wacky juxtaposition. I thought that I grew up with the last generation to hear the Uncle Remus stories or see the Disney movie Song of the South, but the stories are available on Amazon. I didn’t remember much more about the stories than Brer Rabbit being thrown into the briar patch and the tar baby. According to this article in WikiPedia, the animal stories were not overtly racist, as they were essentially a re-telling of the West African trickster myths. The offensive part was the patronizing portrayal of Uncle Remus and the undercurrent of support for slavery. In another strange juxtaposition, the Wren’s Nest, Harris’s Atlanta home (on the National Register of historical places) is in what is now a predominantly African-American neighborhood. I’ve never been, but according to this review by Frommer’s travel guides, the best reason to visit the Wrens’ Nest is for story time, a collection of African and African-American folklore. Presumably, Uncle Remus and his dialect have been deleted from the program. Have any of you Atlanta-area BGB-ers been to the Wren’s Nest?
Check this out. Media news blogger Romensko mentions in passing that the Baltimore Sun apologized for publishing a photo in which an obscenity was printed on a book cover. Following the link in that story, things get a little more sordid. The person holding “The Book” is a female Sergeant in the US Army. She was seen holding the book leaving a military tribunal for a Court Martial trial involving Abu Ghraib misconduct. She brought that book to court. I’m no legal strategist, but I might have brought something else to read at that trial. But wait, there’s more. She testified that after losing a bet with her fellow soldiers (I assume she lost the bet), she allowed guard dogs to lick peanut butter off of her ta-tas. And she is smiling in the picture. Was everyone who entered Abu Ghraib completely out of their minds?
Really, these lists of books that I have been compiling that might be worthwhile to checkout? (Most Recent List) They are just a shameless ploy to make sure that Mrs. Cayenne has plenty of options in front of her come birthday shopping time, which is three months off. Still, it pays to be prepared:
Michael Schaub at Bookslut says that the latest collection of short stories by Deborah Eisenberg, Twilight of the Superheroes, “…has been getting better reviews than, let’s say, a hypothetical collaboration between Philip Roth and God”. Plus, it comes with this sweetass cover:
Over at McSweeney’s, they are offering an ironclad guarantee on their new book Here They Come by Yannick Murphy. If you buy the book from them directly, they will refund your money if you don’t like it.
As some of you may remember, The Kite Runner was tied for first on my “best of” list for last year. Absolutely amazing book.
Anyway, I saw this article this morning about kite running events in Pakistan and thought I’d pass it along for anyone interested:
Little Shayan was one of ten people, mostly children, who died last week during the frenzied run-up to the spring festival of Basant, their heads partly severed by glass-coated, steel or nylon kite twine.
The cords are razor-sharp so they can slash the strings of rival kites during aerial duels, but when they fall across roads they become “like cheesewire”, according to one policeman.
Spurred by angry protests, the authorities shocked the country by outlawing kites the day before the centuries-old rite and arresting more than 1,000 kite-flyers and sellers. (read the rest of the article here)
Have I told you guys about New Orleans yet? Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? is a collection of stories, essays, recipes, maps, drawings from the 1800′s, and other assorted miscellany about New Orleans.
The book title is from an old Louis Armstrong song by the same name. The song is the only officially sanctioned instance in which it is acceptable to pronounce “New Orleans” in such a way that it rhymes with “means”. It’s a sentimental number that has long been the signature tune of those pining for their home town. Clearly, the song’s relevance is way up in the post-Katrina world. Andre Codrescu borrows the title for the prologue to his collection of 20 years of Crescent City writing, New Orleans, Mon Amour. It was also the Groom/Mother-of-the-Groom dance selection at the Cayenne wedding (the Harry Connick, Jr and Dr. John version). As a title, it is one that is instantly recognizable and deeply symbolic for the locals. Read more »
The Believer Magazine’s 2006 Book Award went to Atomik Aztek by Sesshu Foster.
Also in The Believer: Each month Nick Hornby has a column called Stuff I’ve Been Reading, which is pretty much what it sounds like. This month Hornby raves about the book Death and The Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, which is about a guy who writes obituaries and has a penguin as a roommate. He assures us that it is much better than that sounds. Last month, Hornby warned that a new edition of the All of the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren (soon to be a movie with Sean Penn) decided to undo a lot of the editing that made the book into a Pulitzer-prize winner. Like changing the main character’s name. It’s a great book, read it if you haven’t. Avoid the cover with the movie tie-in.
Lastly, Maureen Corrigan, the lady who convinced me that The Tender Bar was worth my time, is crazy about Intuition by Allegra Goodman. She says, “it’s one of those novels that can make a reader excited about the art of the fiction“. Govern yourself accordingly.
The longlist for the ’06 Orange Prize for Fiction has been announced. The list has some old favorites as well as some books that I, at least, have never heard of. Check it out. And…
The Morning News is taking their sweet time in getting this year’s Tournament o’ Books off the ground. They have created brackets and announced the judges. The actual tournament is slated to start in two weeks. Anyone care to get a wagering pool going?
Much like Don Quixote, I set off my epic reading adventure with good intentions and perhaps a little madness. I had decided to read Cervantes’ classic more than a year ago when I heard the buzz about the new tranlsation by Edith Grossman. The gist of the buzz is that this translation is in the “most crisp English yet”. I haven’t read any other translations of the book, so let’s just accept that at face value.
Don Quixote is not for the faint of heart. This translation weighs in at 940 pages, which doesn’t include the Translator’s Note nor the Introduction by Harold Bloom (a lengthy essay that sings Grossman’s praises and favorably compares Don Quixote to Hamlet). Then, Cervantes himself further weeds out the riff raff with a Prologue about the book that is followed by 10 pages of epic poetry and sonnets. It took me several days to get to Chapter 1 where the actual story of Don Quixote begins. Having survived these tests, successfully demonstrating my mettle, I ventured onward. Read more »
Bill Simmons, ESPN’s Sports Guy and author of Now I Can Die In Peace, has a very smart sports conversation with Malcolm Gladwell (Part 1, Part 2), author of Blink! and The Tipping Point. Gladwell follows up the conversation with a post on his own blog.
I went to see Jay McInerney read from his new book, The Good Life, at the Center for Southern Literature last evening. It was relatively poorly attended, since it had been re-scheduled when the Blizzard of ’06 cancelled the reading the first time. McInerney says the book is not a 9/11 book – he prefers to think of the book as “a love story during war time” in the tradition of books like The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. It is a New York story, and he warns that “New York is to monogamy as the TV remote is to linear narrative”. It was an enjoyable reading, particularly the after reading Q&A. I now have a signed copy of the book, so I’ll let yall know how it turns out once it comes up in the “to read” stack. I was kicking myself for not bringing my Brightness Falls to get signed – people brought entire tote bags full of his books for signature. Other events coming up at the CSL that are not on their schedule yet include readings by Gay Talese and T.C. Boyle.
I laughed out loud at the supermarket today when I saw the cover of the New Yorker, and I bought it on the spot. It turns out that the Brokeback Cheney cover displaced the sentimental Mardi Gras cover below (see both covers side-by-side and the full story here), which I love – and would have bought on the spot as well. I hope that the bumped cover comes out as a print somehow.
Large version of the bumped cover here.