Monthly Archives: September 2009

13 posts

Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression by Morris Dickstein

It was on the level of popular culture that the vital “center” of life in the United States held firm during the Great Depression. Weekly trips to the neighborhood movie house, looking at photos of a revitalized nation in Life Magazine, listening to President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats on the radio, following the home team in the still vigorous daily newspapers, these rituals of daily life were the principal means of keeping faith in America’s future, of believing that the only thing to fear was fear itself.

The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care by T. R. Reid

In this great country, for all its goodness, and for all the excellence of the medical care available to the more fortunate, Reid states that 20,000 American citizens die each year due to lack of health insurance and health care. (A more recently released Harvard study indicates more than twice that many.) The notion we have something to learn from other industrialized, wealthy societies often meets with considerable resistance, not because of the oft touted bugaboo of “socialized medicine,“ but simply because the ideas involved are foreign.

Democracy: 1,000 Years in Pursuit of British Liberty by Peter Kellner

Magna Carta, that legendary document which is so frequently referred to in discussions of freedom, and which permeates our cultural history from Rudyard Kipling (“What say the reeds at Runnymede?”) to Tony Hancock (“Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?! Brave Hungarian peasant girl…”) was produced by a power struggle between the military aristocracy and the monarchy. Any resulting “liberty” for ordinary people was a waste product of the medieval warlord industry.

Movie Review: The Informant!

Perhaps the most ingenious part of Whitacre’s affect (and the film) is his stream-of-consciousness inner monologue. He wonders about tie patterns, spews factoids about polar bears, and wrestles with the German language as he bumbles deeper into an FBI investigation he instigated. Whitacre is the ultimate unreliable narrator—someone whose world is entirely in his head, and whose actions are simply inconsequential.

Journalism’s Roving Eye: A History of American Foreign Reporting by John Maxwell Hamilton

Not all of the foreign correspondents for American papers were themselves American. Karl Marx contributed almost five hundred articles on the European scene to Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune during the years between 1852 and 1861. This was after Marx had published the Communist Manifesto and was working on Das Kapital; but his reportage for Greeley, though left-leaning, looks to a modern reader relatively objective.

The Twelve by William Gladstone

This novel follows the exploits of intellectual and spiritual wunderkind Max Doff who, even as an infant, clearly was set apart from the rest of humanity. He’s destined for greatness along the lines of the Buddha and other prophets. During a near-death experience from a severe case of the flu at age 15, Max has a vision in his euphoric delirium that he can’t quite make sense of yet, but it reveals to him the names of twelve people…

Movie Review: 9

The film is truly gorgeous to behold. Starz Animation has officially given Pixar a run for its money. Each surface is textured minutely; the film feels so real the audience could almost reach into the screen and scoop up a stitchpunk for themselves. The spooky brain monster against which the creatures must defend themselves is reminiscent of the machines in The Matrix—a glowing, glaring red eye centered in a mass of metallic tentacles. Though the voice actors are talented, the dialogue is few, far between, and unimportant to the film’s plot. This movie is eye candy.

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small

But, as we see in the terrifying drawings of his radiologist father giving him neck adjustments—“kkrraackk,” and shots and enemas and even treating David’s sore throats and sinus condition with radiation, his escape is just another trap. The quiet horror of the cropped image of David’s face, just his eyes, nose, and part of his mouth, seen as he might have seen himself while lying on a table, looking up at his reflection in the metal surface of a piece of medical equipment, will stay with you long after you finish the book.

Movie Review: The September Issue

From pink to black and from Paris to Bryant Park, this flashy documentary by R.J. Cutler (The War Room) lets us peep behind the veil of Vogue and glimpse into both the goblins and the glory of glamour. Following the magazine’s steadfast fury to produce its largest page-count ever in 2007 (a whopping 840), we see what it takes to work for a high-end fashion publication, but more importantly we get a portrait of the ice-queen in charge.

The Big Machine by Victor LaValle

The Big Machine is what urban fantasy looks like when it’s grown up and the writer isn’t relying on paranormal clichés to flesh out an epic tale of good versus evil. Not that you can pigeon-hole this novel—it’s a dizzying slipstream mashup of genres and memes and tropes and legends wrapped around a cross-cultural love story. This is a story that has depth, richness; a heart and a soul. Above all, it has a soul.