Sunday, October 21, 2012

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

I bought this book because I had a couple of hours to kill and am already reading Middlesex, but didn't have it with me, and didn't want to be reading two books that were going to take me a few weeks to finish. I found it to be surprisingly delightful and also surprisingly political.

Mindy Kaling, best known as Kelly Kapoor on The Office, on the idealized high school experience and how she can't relate to 90210, Party of Five, or, the worst offender, John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane":
" ... I guess I find 'Jack & Diane' a little disgusting. As a child of immigrant professionals, I can't help but notice the wasteful frivolity of it all. Why are these kids not home doing their homework? Why aren't they setting the table for dinner or helping out around the house? Who allows their kids to hang out in parking lots? Isn't that loitering?
"I wish there was a song called 'Nguyen & Ari,' a little ditty about a hardworking Vietnamese girl who helps her parents with the franchised Holiday Inn they run and does homework in the lobby, and Ari, a hardworking Jewish boy who does volunteer work at his grandmother's old-age home, and they meet after school at Princeton Review. They help each other study for the SATs and different AP courses, and then after months of studying and mountains of flashcards, they kiss chastely upon hearing the news that they both got into their top college choices."

Mindy Kaling, you are the best.

I also loved this, from the book's conclusion:

Why didn't you talk about whether women are funny or not?
I just felt that by commenting on that in any real way, it would be tacit approval of it as a legitimate debate, which it isn't. It would be the same as addressing the issue of "Should dogs and cats be able to care for our children? They're in the house anyway." I try not to make it a habit to address nonsensical hot-button issues.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Telegraph Avenue

I thought I was a huge Michael Chabon fan, but maybe I'm just a huge Kavalier & Clay fan. I found this book to be, for one, overwritten, for two, full of characters that I wasn't interested in and, for three, really similar to Wonder Boys in terms of the story, pacing and even, sort of, the characters. It's possible I'm categorizing Chabon in my head now less as "one of my favorite authors" and more "one of those authors, like John Irving, who are forever reorganizing the same several elements over and over again into every single one of their books."

Like Wonder Boys, the novel takes place over the course of just a few days, during which everything unravels. The way it all comes apart at the end is great, but I would have rather read a more conventionally paced novel about how all the main characters met and their lives over the 10-15 years, if not longer, that led up to the events of the story.

The one character I wished the book was about was Gwen Shanks, a midwife who is 9 months pregnant herself and having serious problems with her career and her marriage.

Chabon's portrayal of out-of-touch lefty activists who oppose just about everything was right on the money but I can't say I enjoyed it all that much due to having started my journalism career in a lefty college town and covered some seriously long-winded meetings. It just made me think, oh god, THOSE people.