The Uncollected David Rakoff

The Uncollected David RakoffEven though he was a fairly prolific writer and frequent guest of This American Life, I didn’t know of David Rakoff until the publication of his last book, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. It won numerous well-deserved accolades (I loved it), but the book was obviously bittersweet for longtime Rakoff fans; he died of cancer shortly after completing the manuscript.

The Uncollected David Rakoff gives readers such as myself — people who weren’t too familiar with his oeuvre to begin with — a chance to get acquainted with his work. Unlike his other essay collections, all of which center around a theme, this collection draws from various parts of his career: there’s one fiction story, a handful of travel writings, commentary on literature and pop culture, and few interview transcripts. A number of autobiographical pieces are in there, including several writings about cancer; he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of twenty-two, the treatments of which probably caused the more aggressive form of cancer that he died from life twenty-five years later. Rounding out the collection is the full text of Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish.

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Quickies: Heartburn & Red Rosa

HeartburnHeartburn by Nora Ephron

Publisher/Year: Random House Audio, 2013
Format: Audiobook
Narrator: Meryl Streep
Length: 5 hours, 30 minutes
Source: Purchase

What it is: Seven months pregnant, cookbook writer and food personality Rachel Samstat discovers that her husband has been having an affair with someone she knows. Meanwhile, her well-heeled friends spend their time planning events and gossiping about The Other Woman; they suspect she’s having an affair, but they can’t figure out with whom. Sprinkled throughout the book are recipes for Rachel’s various comfort foods. Rachel just doesn’t know what to do: she wants to make things work with her husband, but she also wants him to drop dead. The book was originally published in 1983.

Why I listened to it: I was looking for a short, light-hearted audiobook. I’d been meaning to read this for a while now because it seems to be universally loved, and it didn’t hurt that Meryl Streep was the narrator (she also starred in the 1986 film adaptation).

What I thought: I think I might have to come to terms that I love Nora Ephron the screenwriter and director, but not Nora Ephron the author. Heartburn is indeed light and entertaining — I can see why people seem to love it so much, and there were moments that genuinely made me laugh — but it felt very one-note/stand-up comedy routine.

Red RosaRed Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg by Kate Evans

Publisher/Year: Verso, 2015
Format: eBook
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher

What it is: A graphic novel about Rosa Luxemburg, who was born into a poor Jewish family in Poland. She was tiny (probably from malnourishment) and sickly (she would walk with a limp for her whole life), but by the age of fifteen, she was rabble rousing on behalf of the working class. She fought to be sent away to receive an education and grappled with Communism in a way that would make it accessible to the people. By her twenties, in a time when women still lacked any authority in important matters, Luxemburg had earned a PhD and made a name for herself in Germany as an important theorist, organizer, and writer whose ideas are still relevant to this day.

Why I read it: I love books on women’s history, and I loved that this one was presented as a graphic biography.

What I thought: First off, I commend Kate Evans for being able to work so much theory into the text in an accessible way! It was still a little clunky at times, but…have you ever read Marx? Overall, though, Evans did a wonderful job of showing Luxemburg as a person — someone with a fiery determination to make her ideas known, but also someone with a rich and fascinating private life. I’d never heard of Luxemburg before reading this, and I am grateful for the introduction.

You can view some of the artwork from the book after the jump. You can also read an excerpt at The Nation.

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Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl

Book cover: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie BrownsteinThe first time I bought tickets to see Sleater-Kinney, I was living in a basement apartment in Yonkers, New York. I was in grad school, completely broke, but I bought tickets for me and my roommate. I can chart a lot of my grad school life in New York according to The Woods; in fact, that album basically provided the soundtrack for most of my thesis-writing marathons (I literally thanked Sleater-Kinney for that in my acknowledgements). Shortly after I bought those tickets, the bomb dropped: Sleater-Kinney was going on indefinite hiatus. The New York show, the last they’d play there for almost a decade, immediately sold out. Suddenly, The Woods tour turned into a farewell tour of sorts; my first time seeing them would also probably be my last.

In the nine years that followed, the women of Sleater-Kinney went on to different projects. Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss went on to do other music projects, while Carrie Brownstein is probably most recognized now for her role in Portlandia. Sleater-Kinney reunited in secret a couple of years ago, released a new album in January, and have spent the better part of this year on tour (I got to see them twice…yay!). Carrie also just released a memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl (lyrics from a Sleater-Kinney song called “Modern Girl”). And while I’ll admit that my take on it is partially colored by the fact that I fangirl hard for Carrie, it really is a beautifully written book!

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The Amityville Horror

Audiobook cover: The Amityville Horror by Jay AnsonIn December 1975, George and Kathleen Lutz moved into their new home in Amityville, NY. With three young children and a limited budget, they could hardly believe their luck: the house on 112 Ocean Avenue had everything they wanted at the right price. After they toured the house, they found out why: the previous year, Ronald DeFeo Jr. had gruesomely murdered his parents and four siblings there (true story). Still, when they learned the reason the house was so cheap, they brushed it off.

But from the moment the Lutzes moved in on December 18, weird things started happening. Certain rooms were ice cold no matter what they did. The priest that they’d asked to come and bless the house quickly fled; he became ill and had extreme physical reactions any time he tried to reach out to the Lutzes, even over the phone. George and Kathleen grew moody and lashed out at the children. George found himself waking up at 3:15 a.m. every day like clockwork. One of the children suddenly had a mysterious imaginary friend.

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The Tsar of Love and Techno

Book cover: The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony MarraHaving raved about Anthony Marra’s debut novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, a couple of years ago, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his latest offering. The Tsar of Love and Techno is somewhat similar to its predecessor in its focus: life during and after Soviet rule. But where Marra had a whole novel to convey the crushing weight of life under Soviet rule with Phenomena, accomplishing this same task a second time with short stories as his vehicle of delivery was probably a lot trickier.

The Tsar of Love and Techno is a book of connected short stories. It’s a mixtape of sorts, an appropriate concept considering the symbolic significance an actual mixtape plays in several of the stories. The book begins in the 1930s with a Soviet censor, a genius in his own right, whose job it is to “correct” photographs, painting over offending parties that have been disappeared by the government and erasing them out of existence. For reasons he can’t explain, he’s drawn to the photograph of a ballerina whose identity he does not know. He leaves a small part of her visible on the photograph, a move that could jeopardize his life.

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