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« March, 2003 »

I’m glad I read some other Baker books before I got to this one, a cast-off from someone else that wound up on my “to read” shelf. Baker’s attention to detail is what makes me like his more convetional writing, however this level of detail brought to sex fantasies and deconstructing the minutae of desire and attraction verges on the pathological. Or perhaps that’s the point... I didn’t like either of these characters or their awkward attempts to understand each other well enough so that could have a mutually satisfying orgasm together over the phone. I found them weird and uptight and disliked their usage of odd euphemisms for sex terms [the male character always says “frans” instead of 'breasts" every time he does this I think "oh god, what a dork!"]. The book was well written however, but now every time I think of Baker I’m going to wonder if any part of this masturbating male character and his obsession with pulling his genitalia through one leg hole of his underpants is in any way auto-biographical.

The Pianist

I decided not to see this movie, even though I like Adrian Brody, because I was afraid it would be too creepily violent and would haunt my dreams. I realize that I am lucky even to be able to attain such distance from the horrible things that happened to Poland during WWII.

Szpilman was a Jew in Warsaw during the time when nearly the entire Jewish poplulation of Warsaw was killed or removed to concentration camps, or fled. He remained behind, starving and hiding and lived to tell the story of his time there. He was no hero, just mostly lucky, and did what he needed to do to survive. His descriptions of coming out of his hiding place to find that he was one of the only people still living in Warsaw as it was being bombed into oblivion is one of the more evocative partsof this book.

This book, reprinted from the version that was released in Germany a few years earlier, also contains a small bio of the German soldier who did not report him and in fact brought him food while he was hiding in a Warsaw attic. That soldier was tortured and killed later in thew war, but his family contributed a photo and a small bio bringing just a bit more depth and nuance to the overall collection of stories that make up the Shoah.

Quiet Rumors: An Anarcha-Feminist Reader

As the nation’s largest private employer suffers a class action lawsuit for systematically underpaying their female employees, people dare to ask if feminism is still “relevant.” Radical organizations utilize mainly male spokespeople, and so-called revolutionary groups from SNCC to the Direct Action Network suffer from what many anarcha-feminists call Manarchy.

Radical feminism has a long and proud tradition and AK Press and the Dark Star Collective have pulled together many important anarcha-feminist essays, manifestoes and writings from historical radicals such as Voltairine deCleyre to more contemporary activists like the Bolivian group Mujeres Creando. Many of the works are reprinted from pamphlets and limited print-run publications. Some of these pieces are polished and engaging and others serve a more historical purpose. The articles don’t even all agree with each other, so we see the classic “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” juxtaposed with a response article “The Tyranny of Tyranny.” The book espouses no particular strategy or game plan, but does a superb job outlining the issues involved and the complexities inherent in the movement.

Quiet Rumors is only 120 pages, but is printed in a tiny font making some of the pages tough to read at over 900 words. The book is attractively illustrated with a series of woodcuts. Readers who are new to anarcha-feminism may find the absence of additional bibliographic information a bit daunting.

The Map of Love

It’s been a long time since I read a book that was at all romance-y that I really enjoyed. This book is so deep and luxurious with details and characters that the romance [or romances actually] become part of the landscape, not the book’s entire reason for being.

Soueif tracks two parallel stories that happen over 100 years apart. Two women come together as a result of a found box of personal papers and their friendship grows as they discover the story of their common ancestor. The story in the present time takes place in Egypt and New York mainly and the story from the past takes place almost entirely in Colonial Egypt where a British woman loses her husband to the fighting and falls for an Egyptian politician. Her story is revealed through her letters and diaries and is written with an intimacy that is not usually found in contemporary fiction. Along the way we learn about Egyptian traditions then and now, Egypt’s position on Israel and Palestine then and now and what the status of women in Egypt is and was. The two main female characters from the present and the one from the past are likable, fully formed but not without foibles. while this story does have a bit of the “forbidden fruit” aspect to it, it’s so well written and complexly mapped that this becomes just one of many plotlines. The family tree in the beginning and the glossary in the back allow the book to use a lot of colloquial Egyptian without completely losing the reader.


I had read one of Gawande’s articles in the New Yorker -- a piece about residents in hospitals getting training to do their first invasive procedures -- and it had always stuck with me. I didn’t even realize that his book was by the same author until I got through the introduction. The rest of the chapters, many of which have also appeared in the New Yorker, met the quality of the first. Gawande is a working surgeon and is also a very interesting, thoughful and experienced medical writer. These essays illustrate many points he has to make about the nature of medicine, and the surgical profession in specific all the while weaving wonderfully written stories in which he features as a character to some degree. He covers such issues as “when doctors go bad [and how to fix them]” and dealing with autopsies and how to request them. He relates a fascinating, if somewhat voyeuristic-seeming story about a diagnosis and treatment of a patient with necrotizing fasciitis [you know, the flesh-eating bacteria]. He treats all of his subjects, even the ones he disagrees with, with respect and honesty. It is easy to say, from reading this book, that Gawande is wasting his time in surgery, that he is an amazing writer who I would love to read more.

Pop Goes the Weasel

Formulaic and uninteresting, the metaphor of a killing game has already been done to death. For the record, I am not a big fan of thrillers, esp psycho-sexual ones, but figured I would give this a shot. Patterson’s fans loved this book, I was just not looking for yet-another-thriller

Suck: Worst-Case Scenarios in Media, Culture, Advertising and the Internet

It was easy to be cruelly mean to the dotcom hipsters back in 1997 because, well, they were getting rich and were acting weird and snotty in public. At least a lot of them were, so much so that an entire culture grew up out of disliking and sneering at them. However, it’s pretty oversimplified to say that Suck was all about bitter irony and cheap shots at easy targets. Picking up this book again reminded me how insanely good some of the writing, in fact most of the writing, was. The erudition of these Bay Area and beyond cultural pundits [all the while eschewing punditry] is a delight. Sentences that sing, words that send you to the dictionary and turns of phrase that make you jealous pepper this slim volume of middle-of-the-bubble writing about the bubble.

The sucksters never said they weren’t sellouts, and this attempt to market a formerly all-web sensation actually works better than its online counterpart because you can read the essays all the way through without distracting hyperlinks or too much scrolling. More than many books I’ve read, Suck’s collection of essays evokes nostalgia for the early days [or at least my early days] of the web when things were just starting to not look so fresh and new, but at least ironic detachment still hadn’t been done to death.