Friday, January 3, 2014

Books of '13: anti-recommendations

As usual at this time of year, I like to tell the Internet the highlights of what I read in the prior year.  I lead by warding you away from books I disliked.  That's as much of a service as telling you what I liked.

Worst of the year: novel

Not technically the worst, because there is one book I'm ashamed to admit I read, and that's Calico Joe by John Grisham.  It's complicated.  Not the book.  Oh gosh, not the book.  My reasons for reading it.  That's the complicated part.  There's also a novel I quit in the middle, which my Competent Wife will tell you I almost never do.  That was The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig.  She's a Yalie, but her book dragged like an anchor, so I abandoned it.

The Privileges, Jonathan Dee, 2010

I got to this book through a review of Jonathan Dee's latest novel (A Thousand Pardons).  Given that this one had been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and that it would be easier to get at the library because it's a few years old, I decided to read this one first.  It's an engrossing novel whose narrative leaps forward in time from a couple's wedding to their small kids years to their teenager years to their grown children years.  As time goes on, the kids themselves get about as much focus as the parents.  In the end, it was rather unsatisfying for reasons of plot that I can barely describe without spoiling the novel.  So I won't.  It was a really ok beach read.  And you know what I mean by "really ok".

Worst of the year: non-fiction

Present Shock; When Everything Happens Now, Douglas Rushkof, 2013

I hate Douglas Rushkoff.  I'd never heard of him before hearing about this book on Marc Maron's podcast, but I hate him.  There was a sign outside my sister's high school that said "Much good work is lost for the lack of a little more."  Douglas Rushkof never saw that sign.  He is quite brilliant at cultural observation and synthesis.  He can name what's happening in a way that I have not seen other people do.  The problem is that in this book he just proceeds to name what's happening over and over again in multiple ways ad infinitum without ever getting to the "so what?" questions; without ever getting to what I as a person might do about the phenomenon he labels present shock.  It's relentless, this book, and then it pays off almost not at all.  He does coin the word "digiphrenia" to refer to when a person is physically in one place but mentally and emotionally is elsewhere thanks to a digital connection to that other place.  His example of a young woman at one party texting and facebooking the whole time to figure out what better party she should be at crystallizes the phenomenon beautifully.  Beyond that, he never gets to a worthwhile point despite all of his pointed observation and analysis.  Grrrrrr.

No comments: