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Joel is a thrice-degreed English nerd, ergo the paper on his bookshelves vastly outweighs the paper in his billfold, but he doesn't mind. He aspires, sometimes, to be a Professor of English Lit., and to be a writer. He has published one piece of short fiction; you can ask him about it if you'd like. His favorite book topics are the degradation of the human soul (whatever that is), awkward family moments, and psychopathy. When he's not reading Russian or Indian novels, he enjoys quality time with his dog Albie, a gentle, if occasionally obstreperous, Labstralian Sheprador.
A writing professor once told me that the best way to create relatable characters was to humiliate them, because everyone identifies with shame and the psychological malaise that trails in its wake. Think about it. Michael Vick. Bill Clinton. Hester Prynne. Me. You. We all have something in common: we've all done something that we're ashamed about; something that, were it to be exposed, would seemingly end our life's self-controlled epoch and throw us into a melee of humiliating and annihilating turmoil. And yet somehow, masses of secretly devious people are, at this very moment, scrolling through websites like Twitter frothing at the mouth in search of their next shame target. Why do we do this? Why do we relish in the opprobrium of the infamous? Ronson discusses the terrors of public shaming and it's consequences both for the insatiable shamer and the head-burying shamee with anecdotes so hysterical, poignant, and thought-provoking that I literally couldn't force myself to leave my couch, even as I felt the blood pooling in the backs of my legs. This book gripped me more viscerally than any work of fiction has in a long time (this is probably because Ronson's non-fiction reads like Junot Diaz's fiction). Close to, if not the best non-fiction book I've read ever.
I owned this book for nearly a year before getting around to reading it, and I realize now that I would have been better off reading it cover-to-cover, over-and-over, consecutively, rather than bothering with any of the other books I chose to read instead. Lahiri outdoes herself time and time again, but this work surpasses any expectation I might have had about the mastery of her authorship. A book about brothers, mothers, lovers; a story that spans continents; a willfully and stubbornly crafted work about the sociopolitical upheaval created by India's independence movement and their separation from colonial Britain, and about escaping that unrest in an America that turns all Indians into stereotypically identical wax replicas of one another, The Lowland is a must read for lovers of the beautifully tragic, and, of course, as we've come to expect from Lahiri, the tragically beautiful.
My first encounter with David Mitchell’s work involved Cloud Atlas, a burst appendix, a flippant surgeon, and a near death experience. Alas, I live to tell the tale of Mitchell’s brilliance, and The Bone Clocks is nothing short of that. In characteristic fashion, Mitchell weaves a narrative that flits from story to story, year to year, brain to brain. Also, in characteristic fashion, Mitchell’s story hinges on character development in the midst of ever-changing socially and psychologically fascinating situations. Expect the usual cleverness, humor, and interconnectedness (you’ll notice characters recurring from previous novels). Expect also a departure from the world you think you understand, and find yourself inside a world that Mitchell manipulates in truly creative and bizarrely satisfying ways.
Goffman provides an objective, though quite passionate, critical analysis of "legally precarious" young black men and their attempts to navigate through a life often, if not always, monitored and manipulated by the intrusive American penal system. And while this is in itself reason enough to read the book, Goffman's true strength is her ability to deliver scene after scene of heartbreaking first-hand source material that actually reads more like fiction than transcribed research. Expect an emotional perspective shift (I even caught myself wanting dramatically to heave the book across the room in disgust at the weblike trap the American justice system represents to the young men she writes about.) On the Run is a perfect jumping off point for readers interested in social inequality and several American institutions (the penal and court systems) that allow, nay, support it.
Somehow, passed over in lieu of second readings of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, or any number of Jane Austen novels (which are awesome, for the record), many lovers of classics simply skip The Picture of Dorian Gray. I can say this because until recently I counted myself amongst this group of misguided, deprived individuals. Alas, no more am I the neophyte I was before I devoured Oscar Wilde's unmatched prose. Sadly I am now in perpetual distress about the fact that he wrote no other novels, and I will be forever deprived of reliving the incredible experience that was reading a Wilde novel for the first time. Ingeniously, The Picture of Dorian Gray dramatizes an exegesis of 19th century debates about art, hedonism, will, and autonomy with splendidly hilarious characters, wicked instances of madness, and a coup de grace that's as ironic as it is symbolic. Please, put down the lesser-known Conrad you're about to wade through, and take up what instantly became one of my favorite novels.