Monday, May 24, 2010

Review of "Best American Magazine Writing 2001"

Overall, an excellent collection. Highlights by order of appearance:

Gretel Ehrlich's "The Endless Hunt" - about her experiences on the ice with her Greenland Inuit friends as they hunt for food. Harrowing stories.
Anthony Lane's "The Maria Problem" - A review of the "Singalong-a-Sound-of-Music" event along with an "appreciation" of the movie musical.
Rian Malan's "In the Jungle" - amazing in-depth investigation that uncovers one of pop music's great mysteries and tragedies.
Robert Kurson's "My Favorite Teacher" - Kurson tries to grapple with the fact that his high school biology teacher and role model is a serial sex offender convicted of murdering a teenage hitchhiker.
David Foster Wallace's "The Weasel, Twelve Monkeys and the Shrub" - a dense yet incisive look at the 2000 McCain presidential campaign and what it means to be a journalist covering it, what it means to be a potential voter caught in it. A stark contrast to his 2008 campaign.
Malcolm Gladwell's "The Pitchman" - a profile that is as engaging as its subject, Ron Popeil.
William Langewiesche's "The Million-Dollar Nose" - another profile, but accordingly, of a different flavor that is no less interesting than Popeil. This one is on the influential American wine critic, Robert Parker.
Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Ghost" - an amazing look at Hank Williams III and his struggles to deal with his grandfather and father's legacy while marking his own path as a musician.
Lewis H. Lapham's "Stupor Mundi" - a wonderful essay on Patrick O'Brian, author of the "Master & Commander" series. This can induce anyone to seek out O'Brian's work.
Donna Tartt's "The Glory of J.F. Powers" - a critical essay/review that coincides with the reprint of Powers' stories, which had a decidedly unromantic view of priests and the Catholic church.

Also worth reading for certain aspects:
Bill Vaughn's "Skating Backwards" - a humorous chronicle of Vaughn's efforts to transform a patch of polluted swamp into a cozy, clean pond.
Sean Flynn's "The Perfect Fire" - a tragic tale of a warehouse fire that claimed the lives of six firefighters.
Anne Fadiman's "Mail" - a personal essay on handwritten letters just as email began to take over people's lives via AOL.
Robert Olen Butler's "Fair Warning" - a short story about a young female auctioneer who can sell anything yet cannot find love.
Donald L. Barrett and James B. Steele's "Big Money & Politics," "Soaked by Congress," Throwing the Game" - a series of articles that examines how campaign finance and lobbying efforts prove detrimental to the average US citizen.
Jonathan Gold's "Paris on the Hudson" - a fun review of New York's Pastis restaurant.
James Wolcott's "Forever Young" - a critical appreciation for the work and legacy of the singer and entertainer, Bobby Darin.

(From my Goodreads review.)

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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Quotes to remember

It is the deep conviction of vast numbers of individuals that they have no proper story. Their personal experience of storylessness, and hence of valuelessness, is very great. Dramatic resolutions are lacking — loves, no one believes in; flights, captivities, wilderness campaigns, the founding of colonies, explorations, the adventures which for centuries were made possible by an expanding world, all these are absent. Nevertheless people still conceive of themselves as actors and characters. They are prepared but they are not called into action. They feel like unemployed extras; they stand ready and have nothing to do but bear passive, humiliating witness to the greater significance of the new man-made world. Joyce meant to say, I think, that there is remaining significance in myth which sustains the individual. The collective life of mankind he does not admire. History, he agrees with Marx, is a nightmare from which we struggle to awaken. But myth, an extract from the experience of the race, can, he feels, give meaning to the life of the individual and sustain him invisibly. Art — the fresh feeling, new harmony, the transforming magic which by means of myth brings back the scattered distracted soul from its modern chaos — art, not politics, is the remedy.

— Saul Bellow, in "Writers" by Nancy Crampton, dated 1973

All government, in its essence, is a conspiracy against the superior man: its one permanent object is to oppress him and cripple him. If it be aristocratic in organization, then it seeks to protect the man who is superior only in law against the man who is superior in fact; if it be democratic, then it seeks to protect the man who is inferior in every way against both. One of its primary functions is to regiment men by force, to make them as much alike as possible and as dependent upon one another as possible, to search out and combat originality among them. All it can see in an original idea is potential change, and hence an invasion of its prerogatives. The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is very apt to spread discontent among those who are.
— H. L. Mencken, Smart Set, December 1919

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Another spring comes to an end

The last articles of the spring:

The Arizona International Film Festival's opening night shorts - great start to this 10-day event.
I talked to the main guy behind Marvel's motion comics about his latest project, "Iron Man: Extremis."
The AIFF's "The Tijuana Project" can be heartbreaking if it weren't for the kids.
Though the title is a little more confrontational than I like, it complements the topic of nondrinkers. I get an official Letter to the Editor about this column.
I got news of supposed appearances by Lupe Fiasco & B.o.B. at a Sam Adams concert.
Finally, I review the top 10 UA/Tucson arts stories of the 2009-10 year.

Amazing at how much happens in Tucson if one looks and listens carefully.

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