Nonfiction - the year in review
compiled by Mike Miliard
Experience: A Memoir, by Martin Amis
(Talk Miramax). In this labyrinthine memoir, Britain's "Lucky Bastard
Laureate" cracks his arrogant veneer by laying bare his life: a dismissive,
alcoholic father (Kingsley Amis); a cousin killed by England's most notorious
serial killer; divorce and separation from his children; and vicious public
thrashings for crimes like wearing an "unfashionable suit." Experience
reveals Amis as much more human than his detractors would have him portrayed.
As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, John
Colapinto (HarperCollins). In 1967, infant Bruce Reimer's penis was burned
off in a botched circumcision. On the advice of a since-discredited doctor, his
parents had him surgically castrated and set to raising him as a girl named
Brenda. At age 14, Brenda renamed herself David and began the arduous
transition back to maleness. In exploring the ethical and scientific quandaries
inherent in the "nature vs. nurture" debate, As Nature Made Him is an
One Market Under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the
End of Economic Democracy, by Thomas Frank (Doubleday). As corporate
business casts its shadow across the globe, and triumphant "market populism" --
with its hipster CEOs and down-home investment clubs -- deepens the divide
between haves and have-nots, Thomas Frank is a voice in the wilderness, a
howling prophet calling for more justice, more equity, and more honest debate.
Ultimately, Frank seeks to debunk the increasingly unquestioned notion that
"free market" and "democracy" are interchangeable terms.
the year in review
cultural explosions -
film culture -
local punk and metal -
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big
Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown). With a reporter's eye
for detail and a crystalline writing style, Gladwell explains how "ideas and
products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do." His examples
extend from Paul Revere to The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
and teen smoking.
Black Mass: The Irish Mob, the FBI, and a Devil's
Deal, by Dick Lehr and Gerard O'Neill (Public Affairs). One of the more
sickening episodes in American law-enforcement history begins with two
childhood chums from Southie -- Irish mob kingpin James "Whitey" Bulger and FBI
agent John Connolly. Whitey acts as an informant, through Connolly, to the
Feds. But soon enough, information is flowing in the opposite direction, too.
Before long, the cops and the bad guys are indistinguishable. This true,
complex, fascinating story reads like a novel -- and it's one that's uniquely
Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation, by Jeffrey
Meyers (Norton). An exhaustive look at the author of 1984 and
Animal Farm, the last century's pre-eminent literary crusader against
fascism, who coined terms like "newspeak" and "doublethink." Meyers artfully
documents Orwell's democratic socialism and talent for satire as he sheds light
on a man who reveled in his contradictions: "Etonian prole, anti-colonial
policeman, bourgeois bum, Tory Anarchist, Leftist critic of the Left,
puritanical lecher, kindly autocrat."
Quarrel & Quandary, by Cynthia Ozick (Alfred A. Knopf). In
this collection of literary essays, Ozick tries to plot a course between art
and politics. She finds, however, that they're not so easily separated -- the
incisive writer's work (her art) is often inadvertently political. How does one
respect art and history at the same time, she wonders? In pieces on Kafka,
Dostoyevsky, Gertrude Stein, and Anne Frank, Ozick seeks to resolve the
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, edited by Karen V.
Kukil (Anchor Books). Plath is a poet whose short, tragic life garnered as
much (prurient) public interest as her work. These journals, the first edition
to include two formerly sealed diaries, will satiate the "peanut crunching
crowd" about which she wrote so contemptuously in "Lady Lazarus." Plath is
popularly perceived as a victim of patriarchy or of her own immoderate artistic
passion, but these journals offer no hard evidence for either view. They do
reveal a tragic figure, clearly ahead of her time.
Nobrow: The Culture of Marketing, the Marketing of Culture,
by John Seabrook (Alfred A. Knopf). In this age of media supersaturation,
the idea that taste can be ordered into high-, low-, and middlebrow categories
is extinct. Advertising, marketing, and demographic targeting have rendered
things like "art" and "talent" all but obsolete. Now, there's only "buzz."
Seabrook shows that we've entered a new world where even former arbiters of
class and sophistication like the New Yorker cravenly seek the "next big
thing" and the hype du jour, contributing to a culture of impermanence and
A Vast Conspiracy: The Real Story of the Sex Scandal that Nearly
Brought Down a President, by Jeffrey Toobin (Random House). Speaking of
the New Yorker, legal correspondent Jeffrey Toobin, who cut his teeth on
the O.J. saga, dives with abandon into the quagmire of the Clinton/Lewinsky
scandal here. We all know what happened, but this is the authoritative account
of that thrilling and sickening spectacle, and Toobin somehow makes the whole
overexposed mess compelling yet again.