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Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes

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This is really 'philosophy for beginners' illustrated with jokes. The jokes are generally good, but wait for the paperback. ($19 for a tiny book? Now that's a joke.)
Against Love: A Polemic

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I recommend this book highty, not for its answers (it doesn't pretend to have any) but for its questions, which appraise every aspect of contemporary coupledom (which, she explains, is what she means by 'love'). In lesser hands this could be an intolerable bore, but Kipnis's intelligence and wit keep it readable.The most spectacular set piece is compiled from actual answers to the question "what can't you do if you're part of a couple?" The list--made up almost entirely of phrases the reader will instantly recognize--runs to eight pages, and doesn't come close to repeating itself.Her approach is external, like an economist or anthropologist, but informed by a little Freud and a lot of common sense. Ultimately she is asking "Why should we trust this odd set of beliefs about love when so much of the available evidence contradicts them?" I should add that the set of beliefs brought into question includes some of more than intimate interest, such as "we didn't care when JFK slept around, so why was there such a fuss about Clinton? What's changed?" She suggests a few answers, some of which are more convincing than others, but it's the questions that matter, and she poses them brilliantly.
Orlando

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An extraordinary caprice by Woolf: a 'biography' whose subject is, like an oak tree, effectively immortal and androgynous. (There are also several other characters who are one or both.)Some of the best -- i.e. least simplistic -- thinking about culturally-defined sex roles I have ever read, including observations of how they have mutated over the past four centuries. She asserts, for example, that the Victorian era was a regressive one for women.The last part of the book is an extended reverie, which I found a little monotonous, but I'll give it another chance.
The Graveyard Book: Full Cast Production

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This is a terrific book, perfect for tweens and yet moving and wise in a way only adults will fully appreciate. Some may even prefer it to Gaiman's similarly wonderful 'Coraline', because the dangers faced by the hero are more concrete and less metaphysical.
The Mistress's Daughter: A Memoir

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The distinguishing attribute of this book is the author's fearlessness. She doesn't pretend to be a nice person, only an honest one, and the result is sometimes shocking.In brief: Homes, who was adopted at birth, is contacted at age 31 by her birth mother, a childish woman who has fantasies of Homes 'adopting' her. Eventually she meets her birth father, who knows only how to be either seductive (making promises he can't keep to Homes's birth mother, and eventually Homes herself) or submissive (to his wife).It's not a novel, and Homes insists on telling the story chronologically, which effectively evokes the terribly uncertain and edgy state that she experienced while it was all happening. Some people can't handle this, accusing Homes of 'whining'. They mistake acute pain and deep disorientation for narcissism; perhaps they would have liked something more Hollywood-ready.As it happens I have personal experience with all the types encountered here: adopted children encountering their birth parents, hidden half-siblings, women who relinquished their children at birth, and so forth; and Homes deserves full credit for true-to-life portraiture.The second half of the book is less compelling, but if you read it at a sitting (not difficult) then the arc of it becomes of a piece with the whole.
To Kill A Mockingbird: Enhanced Edition

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The audiobook, read by Sissy Spacek, is incredible. She delineates class and character brilliantly.
The Song is You

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[!! SPOILERS !!]This is not a love story. There is a book-length flirtation at the heart of the action, but by the time we're halfway through it's clear that the protagonist and the object of his affection are a ridiculous pairing, the kind that only ends happily in the fantasies of middle-aged men.But what is also obvious by then is that the author is not going to indulge in this cliche; and since he likes his bad-but-not-evil characters, the question that begins to occupy the reader is: how is he going to get them out of this safely?I did enjoy watching Phillips play variations on the theme of elision, which he does with skill and humor. If this doesn't sound like your idea of fun, you might find the book trouble. Then again, there are other ways in, as some reviewers have reported.[obtained via Early Reviewers]
Reasons to be Pretty

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The play starts in mid-fight: Greg has been overheard referring to his girlfriend's looks as 'regular' (rather than 'pretty' or 'beautiful'), and now there's hell to pay. She walks out on their four-year relationship, leaving Greg wanting her back and us wondering if there isn't more to it than that. There is, but LaBute doesn't bash us over the head with it; so we're right in there with Greg, stretching for things just beyond our reach, and growing a bit in the process. The other couple in the play are mostly there for contrast, but so fully drawn that you don't think of it that way while the story is in motion.Note that although LaBute may have begun with the impulse to comment on the burden of physical beauty (or its lack), that's ultimately peripheral to this story.The book states that this is the script that preceded the first production. I don't know what changed when, but by Broadway there had been some substantial alterations. Particularly there are three big monologues (for Steph, Kirk, and Greg) which were cut, which was wise -- now the characters struggle to convince each other, rather than us, which is more engaging. The Broadway version is clearly superior, but not yet published.
Voluntary Madness

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This is a very good book, though not what you might expect. At first it looks like it's going to be an undercover reporter's expose, a normal person faking crazy so the rest of us can see how our benighted brethren live. But eventually it turns out that she's not really faking, she needs help, and more than she knows. As with her last book, 'Self-Made Man', this is an inadvertent coming-of-age story. The journalistic narrative is gradually displaced by her struggle for self-knowledge, and in the process she discovers all kinds of things that many people already know, in this case that interpersonal psychotherapy -- the kind that doesn't need a prescription pad -- actually works.I hasten to add that this isn't the sentimental Hollywood version. She is wonderfully dry-eyed and skeptical, and acquires not pat solutions, but the logical means for navigating past the twin whirlpools of rage and despair. Thus her story is essentially universal. Everyone struggles with these things from time to time, and her presentation if free of the self-pity and/or glibness that are endemic to the this sort of story. It's not Thomas Szasz, nor is it Oliver Sacks, but it's still a useful and necessary book for times like ours, when psychopharmacology (and the pseudo-scientific 'cost-benefit' analysis that enthrones it) has not merely eclipsed the traditional talking cure but nearly driven it into hiding.
Voices of Time: A Life in Stories

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The form of the book is exceptional: 338 tiny stories, few longer than a page. But the resulting mosaic is utterly wonderful, and as soon as I finished the last I immediately started over again.
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