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Hillbilly Elegy is a humblebrag of a memoir

2 Nov

51idsm4kvzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Memories of an Appalachian adolescence meshed with analysis of the disaffected white working class, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy has been making the rounds as a primer on the sentiments that have given rise to Donald Trump. It certainly has all the right ingredients: Vance is a white man who grew up poor in Ohio with family roots in Kentucky. His mother struggled with addiction and had a string of bad boyfriends and husbands. Vance was mostly raised by his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw; his sister; and a cast of eccentric aunts and uncles.

Vance’s childhood was chaotic at best, and he might have been headed down the same path as so many of his peers (unemployment, drugs) were it not for Mamaw’s tough love and his spontaneous decision to join the Marines after high school. After the Marines came college, then Yale Law. Then a year clerking, a year lawyer-ing, a year in operations, and then—oh the end. Then this book. Because Vance, now a Silicon Valley investor and contributor to The National Review, is only 31. Continue reading

E.L. James Human Centipedes Herself With Grey

25 Jun

grey-el-james_0Oh, how I missed Christian Grey. His stoic intensity, his impeccable suit collection, his way with small words. His twisted cliche of a past and complacent cliche of a future. His contempt for normal relationships and yet powerlessness in the face of the most boring woman on earth. His playroom. His NDA. His overtly metaphorical hatred of being touched.

If there’s anything we’ve learned about E.L. James in the four years since the runaway success of Fifty Shades of GreyFifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed—125 million sold and counting!—it’s that there is zero shame in her game. At one point in 2012, James was reportedly making $1.34 million a week from the series, and rumors of her aggressive presence on the set of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie suggest she’s come a long way from the bemused passivity that typified those early days after FSOG took off. James is the repressed housewife’s J.K. Rowling, living proof that in the age of the blockbuster—movie, album, even book—a rising tide lifts all boats. Like, any boat.

Given Fifty Shades’ ascendancy, it’s little surprise that James has revived the now well-worn tale of elusive sadist millionaire Christian Grey and his (spoiler) semi-submissive-turned-wife, Anastasia Steele. That revival comes in the form of Grey, a retelling of the inaugural FSOG from Christian’s perspective (the original, for those of you with better things to do, was from Anastasia’s). In so many ways, Grey was inevitable—as inevitable as Rowling’s The Tales of Beetle the Bard—because when something clicks with the public, we beat it to death with adoration and replication until it becomes banal in the vast landscape of doppelgangers we’ve created. After all, we are the species that created eight Fast & Furious movies.  Continue reading

Chris Harrison’s The Perfect Letter Is a Festival of Cliches

14 May

y450-293I suppose it’s not surprising that someone let Chris Harrison write a book. The diminutive all-American host of The Bachelor and Bachelorette has participated in some 29 seasons of romantic Hunger Games, during which time he’s perfected the art of soberly watching men and women choose their future fiancees via a series of melodramatic flower handouts. It doesn’t much matter whether the bachelor/ette is bubbly or reserved, smart or dim-witted, good at juggling two-dozen potential significant others or hilariously ill-equipped. Regardless, Harrison is there, be-suited and poker-faced, his benignly sympathetic countenance a cross between the earnest enthusiasm of Carson Daly hosting The Voice and the thinly veiled smugness of Alex Trebek on Jeopardy. Harrison has no qualms about proclaiming each season of The Bachelor “the most controversial ever,” and is a master at addressing “Bachelor Nation” without smirking. One might even think he believes in it all: the frenzied, tumbling romances; the grand proclamations; the too-soon engagements. At the very least, Harrison knows one thing about love: It sells.  Continue reading

The Witches of East End: Just no

3 Jun

witcheseastendIn the last 48 hours, I’ve taken about 37 cold showers. I’ve tried eight different fan/window combinations to see which might make my apartment (whose windows all face in the same direction, cross-breeze be damned) slightly less suffocating, and I’ve unearthed every ice pack I ever owned, all of which are now in the rotating employ of cooling my forehead/neck/brain. You guys, it is hot.

See, my apartment has sprouted a new “quirk,” which is that my window AC unit can’t be on an actual AC setting (versus “fan,” which is like the non-alcoholic beer of mechanized cooling) for more than 20 minutes without blowing a fuse. Consequently I spent the weekend doing such normal summer activities as the aforementioned fan rearranging, plus ordering a takeout dinner that included one turkey wrap and three smoothies, and traveling by bus to the nearest gym so that I could “exercise” (walk at a leisurely pace) in the comfort of central air. Ah, New York. You mock me, you do.

When home, I thought I might survive the heat with distraction, and embarked upon a new series whose description seemed to put it in the same league as the saccharine and ridiculous (and recently concluded) Sookie Stackhouse books. Witches of East End follows “a family of Long Island witches that are struggling against dark forces that are conspiring against them” and is written by the same author as a young adult series called “Blue Bloods,” apparently about vampires in the same universe. WOEE is author Melissa de la Cruz’s first foray into writing “for adults” and in 2012, it was announced that Lifetime was developing a series based on the books. Because of course. Continue reading

Why [No One Really Cares That] I Left Goldman Sachs

3 Dec

In March of this year, Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times titled, “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” in which he outlined his decision to end a 12-year tenure with one of the most successful investment banks in the world. In that declaration — which I wrote about back when I reviewed Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia — Smith put the fault on a shifting Goldman culture, where “the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money.”

Critics called Smith’s op-ed naive, but I found it decently badass, and so was fairly excited for Why I Left Goldman Sachs, the book. It held the allure of additional juicy Goldman tidbits — like the Times essay’s disclosure that clients were often referred to as “muppets” — and other embarrassing examples of the kind of corporate greed and financial whimsy that lend credibility to the idea of the 99% versus the 1%. I didn’t expect Smith to divulge any massive illegal folly on Goldman’s part, so much as to remind us why we should be angry that these are the people who run the institutions we’ve deemed too big to fail.

Unfortunately, not only does WILGS fail to be particularly earth-shattering with respect to the financial sector, it for the most part fails to be particularly interesting as a book. Smith, a mediocre writer at best, gets lost in the story of his own humdrum advancement at Goldman, and appears to be confused about what does or doesn’t rate as memoir-worthy. While some degree of exposition is to be expected, it’s not until more than halfway through the book that Smith even begins to outline the subject on which its title is based. Nor does the first half feel particularly relevant, except as an overt ploy to qualify his ultimate disillusionment (“Before we get into why I left Goldman, let me explain that I am clearly a smart and awesome person.”) Listen, I don’t care that you took three years of Zulu, Greg. I don’t care that you visited the first-ever Wendy’s, or how good you were at using the trading desk’s time-stamping machine, or where you buy your shirts, unless it’s a shirt store fronting for a purveyor of diamond-encrusted toilets, or something I don’t know, a little more Goldman Sachs.

Continue reading

This Isn’t How

20 Jun

Let me start off today’s (very belated, I know) review of Augusten Burroughs’ This is How with a passage from one essay in the book, “How to Be Fat”:

“Almost every serial dieter I know speaks of his or her ‘relationship with food’ and how ‘complex’ it is.

As with any shitty relationship, the solution is not to spend years in couples therapy and scheduling sex every Wednesday.  If it’s really a shitty relationship, you have to leave it.

If you go on a diet and you lose weight and keep the weight off, that means you wanted it, you got what you wanted, then you actually liked having it, so you’ve kept it.

But if you diet and fail and diet and fail, you clearly have to stop with the dieting because you don’t like diets of any kind enough to follow them.

So. You let yourself eat anything you want and food becomes a commodity. It’s less interesting to stand before the glittering, freshly stocked All You Can Eat buffet when you have been standing there every night for the past six months, eating all you want, which is less and less each time. When no food is off-limits, all food becomes equal and calories evaporate, even if they pile on. But these calories, no matter how actually fattening, contain no meaning. Your war with your weight must end because wars require more than one active party.”

There you have it, guys. Augusten Burroughs, just ten short years after releasing his debut novel, Running with Scissors, has managed to cure obesity. Tired of being fat? Eat whatever you want! Don’t worry, eventually your body will figure it out. I mean, eventually might be five years from now, when you weigh 500 pounds and end up starring in one of those TLC specials about people who can’t leave their houses without removing an entire wall. But don’t worry: You’ll be content in the knowledge that at least you didn’t waste time fighting with yourself over the fact that carrots suck more than cookies.

Out of all of the essays in This is How, the one on weight loss annoyed me the most—big surprise from the girl whose own “eat whatever I want” regimen has resulted in a weight gain over the last five years equivalent to about three medium-sized toddlers. Let me just tell everyone from the trenches of this particular healthy living methodology: If you really like food, it’s not going to work. Sure, maybe after a week at the beach—subsisting on beer and funnel cake—some part of my sugar-addled brain thinks “Huh, it’d be nice to eat some vegetables right now,” but the thought is fleeting, and lasts about as long as it takes me to find the caramel popcorn. My yearning for high-fat, high-sugar amazingness has very little to do with whether I consider that food novel and much more to do with how much I like having that food in my mouth.  Continue reading

Dead Boring

16 May

Given that it’s almost True Blood season, I found myself moderately excited—moderately—for the newest Sookie Stackhouse book, Deadlocked, which came out earlier this month. I say moderately because I am of the humble opinion that Harris has been phoning it in for a few years now, and/or ran out of supernatural creatures to cast in her increasingly redundant series.

Phoning it in can be a death knell for any author—to be discussed further when I review the latest Augusten Burroughs book, whose lack of substance is depressing me greatly. But Harris—as much as I love the fact that she’s inadvertently generated one of the most ridiculously fun shows on television—didn’t have much room to fall. The Sookie Stackhouse books are like Anne Rice for dimwits, and rival Twilight for the title of worst-written vampire series of all time (editor’s note: I have read about three vampires series and thus am wildly unqualified to make this claim.)

In a nutshell, this is how a Sookie Stackhouse novel goes:  Continue reading