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Reviewing the Reviews

October 20 - 21.

Publication: Sun-Times

Cover: "What Lies Beneath: Paula Kamen examines the life, death and demons of her friend and fellow writer, the late Iris Chang."

"Chang suffered from bipolar disorder," reviewer Mark Athitakis writes, "which gave her the energy to survive a backbreaking book tour for The Chinese in America yet exacerbated her severe depression. And her background as the child of Chinese immigrants intensified the pressure to both succeed and assimilate into the American mainstream. (She ran for homecoming court at U. of I., an odd pursuit for a bookish J-school student.) Those issues, combined with her sensitivity to the gruesome details of her research - in the final years of her life she was working on a book about the Bataan Death March - took its toll. In some instances, she grew paranoid about being pursued by Japanese activists angry about her book The Rape of Nanking and believed that Newsweek magazine postponed an excerpt from that book under pressure from Japanese advertisers.

Chang killed herself - if you haven't figured it out yet - on a California roadside. She left behind a husband and son.

Other Reviews & News of Note: "While I was busy getting to know Dr. Seuss via the Cat in the Hat, the Lorax, Sam I Am and Bartholomew Cubbins - a provocative name for a preschool set if I ever heard one - a generation of stay-at-home moms was cuddling up to Harold Robbins, whose dirty, sexy page-turners revolutionized the once-puritanical world of publishing," Books editor Teresa Budasi writes in her weekly column.

"It is mentioned in Andrew Wilson's Harold Robbins; The Man Who Invented Sex that one could expect dirty parts in a Robbins novel about every 17 pages. I suppose the same could be said for Wilson's meticulously researched biography . . . "

Also: Features writer Mike Thomas interviews Garrison Keillor and elicits this nugget, among others: "One of the worst nights of my life was a big banquet affair honoring me for 25 years of the radio show. It was excruciating. People stood up and made laudatory speeches that showed all too clearly they had never listened to the show. Open heart surgery was a picnic compared to that recognition dinner."

Noted: "Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg read War and Peace on his honeymoon."

He would. Jesus.


And what Steinberg piece is complete without his opening explanation that the general public is a lot dumber than he is. For a guy who thinks he's such a smarty pants, he sure has to advertise it as much as a fool. Steinberg may know his literature, but that does not alone make a man wise, nor a crack journalist or insightful writer. It makes you a good candidate to teach English somewhere, not work at a newspaper.


At least now we know what he does when he's not taking the 15 minutes it requires to write his column. He's sitting in his office reading Tolstoy.


Publication: Tribune

Cover: "Academy Rewards: Lessons taught, and learned, at West Point."

Why? Why does this epitome of ordinariness make the cover of the Chicago Tribune Book Review?

Apparently some of us hold (at least the notion of) that franchise in higher esteem than the people who actually work there.


Other Reviews & News of Note: Only three-and-a-half reviews by my count, so no. Why even bother putting this thing out?


Publication: New York Times

Cover: "True Believers," a review of The Abstinence Teacher.

Other Reviews & News of Note: "Here in Dinkytown: A novel about a runaway in the Minneapolis punk scene" is the Times's review of Joshua Furst's The Sabotage Cafe. Being from the outer fringes of Minneapolis' indie music scene and having attended the University of Minnesota, where Dinkytown is located, this review caught my eye. Because Dinkytown and the punk scene do not intersect; at least they didn't when I was there.

"Cheryl lands in Dinkytown, the stimulating, seedy Minneapolis neighborhood on the edge of the University of Minnesota that was home to her mother's bohemian wanderings in the 1980s," the review explains.

I was there in the 1980s and Dinkytown, however cherised for such classics as Al's Breakfast, was more like Dullsville. The punk scene and any other strands of bohemia was happening in the Uptown and Lower Uptown neighborhoods, as well as the raw edge of the Warehouse District. Later at least a portion of the indie scene moved to Nordeast.

Dinkytown was where you went for a malt at Annie's or to the hardware store or Burger King. Not real punk.

Also: The Times also reviews the Harold Robbins biography, accompanied with a photo of Robbins flanked by two Penthouse models and looking very Hefneresque. Who knew?


1. Clarence Thomas
2. Alan Greenspan
3. Ann Coulter

Let's just leave it at that this week.


Posted on October 22, 2007

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


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