Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “essays”

Sophia’s CBR4 Review #27: “Wallflower at the Orgy” by Nora Ephron

I’m prWallflower at the Orgyetty sure Wallflower at the Orgy (1980) by Nora Ephron was another one of those books I just stumbled upon while browsing my library’s kindle book selection. I liked When Harry Met Sally, so my general impression of Nora Ephron was favorable, and the title of this book sounded both exciting (orgy) and relatable (wallflower). I decided to give it a try.

The book consists of a series of essays written by Nora Ephron in 1968 and 1969. Although there were a couple of interesting essays that caught my attention, I don’t think I would have even finished this book if it weren’t so short. The main problem was that many of the subjects felt dated, and without more contemporary explanation of the context of the time and the people, it didn’t work for me. Then throw in a couple of obscure character subjects and some uncomfortably dated rape jokes and I pretty much lost interest.

Read the rest of my review here.

Siege’s #CBR4 #38: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto by Chuck Klosterman

In which Siege discovers a kindred mind, and also realizes that Marilyn Monroe and Pamela Anderson DO have more in common than one would like to admit.

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #20: Ex Libris – Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

My reading pattern usually goes something like this: sci-fi, fantasy, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi, mystery, etc. Every once in a while, however, someone will loan me something different that I never would have picked out myself. Sometimes it turns out to be marvelous, like the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Sometimes it turns out to be…not, like Hermann Hesse’s Knulp, which was just odd. In this case, the loaner definitely landed more on the marvelous side. Ex Libris is a collection of essays about books, written by a book lover from a book-loving family. My favorite one was about being the world’s proofreader, but she also writes about passing the love of books on to your children, the debate between noting in the margins or leaving pages pristine, the surprisingly value of mail-order catalogues, and her favorite books about food. And polar exploration. And books about books. And history books. And poetry books. And…you get the idea.

Anne sounds like she’d be enormously fun to hang out with, but intimidating as hell to play a trivia game with. I am in awe of her vocabulary. Her writing is warm and funny and inviting, and I liked her matter-of-fact assumption that of course everybody loves books as much as she does. Why wouldn’t you?

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #14: Legs Get Led Astray: Essays by Chloe Caldwell

Legs Get Led Astray: Essays
by Chloe Caldwell

Chloe Caldwell’s personal essays have a way of making me dissect my own life, whether I want to or not. I say ‘me’ instead of ‘you’ (though I bet it would be true for you too), and I am disregarding the editorial ‘we.’ Reading Legs Get Led Astray is not an abstraction — it is her voice and my brain having a conversation through the page. And though at times what I remembered through her past made me uncomfortable, it was only because I knew the feelings to be true. I enjoyed Legs Get Led Astray in the same way a song can hurt so good. Love, lust and loneliness — Over and over I say that is what I want to read and what I want to write, and this book makes me want to write.

I will give you a typewriter. I will not be able to keep my hands off of you. I will pick flowers and bring them to your windowsill. I will want to borrow your things. I will talk a lot around you because that I do around people I like. I will like you and maybe even love you.

–“Long May You Run”

Caldwell examines her relationships while she’s still in the throes of them. Her essays talk about lovers, yes, but also about close friends, her parents, children she has cared for, and more than one instance of the Strand bookstore. Years of retrospect do not factor in here much — her feelings are still raw and maybe a little jumbled and maybe a little closer to the direct noise inside anyone’s brain. Her heart swells and stretches, contracts and fractures, and her honesty is refreshing.

And do you remember that in the letter you write me, you told me that perhaps your love for me confused me into thinking you didn’t have any love left over for anyone else? Did you forget you were actually really on par with that?
You say that you love me but that you love a lot of people.
You say that you have a lot of love.
You say that my mind is like an elephant’s.


Caldwell also likes to know what people secretly think about. She likes other people’s journals and emails, and seeing a person’s face when they think no one else is looking. Or better yet, when they are oblivious to any world outside their own thoughts. It’s voyeuristic, sure, but also somewhat anthropological. She seems to find it all very interesting — it’s her own loop of personal reflection through someone else, and then she starts to write.

I like songs like [Rufus Wainwright’s] “The Art Teacher,” which, in four minutes, I feel like I’ve read a story. I’ve been sucked into this child’s life — this child that turns into an adult with a broken heart. I feel like I’ve listened to a well-written essay, wherein I was given the creative freedom to fill in my own gaps.

But mostly I related because I know that I would have bought a painting I didn’t love, if someone I was in love with loved it.

–“The Art Teacher”

Wrapped up in music and smells and drugs and strewn pieces of clothing, Caldwell writes from a place of longing for connection, while also yearning for distraction. Release. If you gathered all the songs she mentions throughout the book, you’d have a really good playlist. She is unafraid to admit when she’s been fearful, when she’s been the fuck-up, or when she judged too soon. But she also loves wholeheartedly, generously, and it’s endearing. None of her stories come across like, “Hey, look at me shocking my audience!” No. She is writing to someone.

Is it you?

I purchased this book with my own fool money from Future Tense Books. You should too.

This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.

TylerDFC #CBR4 Review#7 Eating the Dinosaur By Chuck Klosterman

The newest book of essays by Chuck Klosterman is worth a read if you are a fan but I don’t suggest it as an entry point for readers unfamiliar with Chuck’s writings. Klosterman first came to the scene with Fargo Rock City, a hilarious and insightful memoir about growing up in Fargo at the height of the 80’s power metal wave. Since then, each successive book has failed to reach that apex. Eating the Dinosaur has some interesting points, but ultimately I don’t think it accomplished what Klosterman set out to do.

The main theme of the book is perception. How we are perceived by others and how we perceive ourselves. Klosterman is always at his best when he is drilling deep into a pop culture connection that may not have been made before and the lead off essay, “Oh, the Guilt” is a prime example. In this, the longest piece in the book, Klosterman analyzes In Utero era Kurt Cobain & Nirvana and draws parallels to doomed Branch Davidian leader David Koresh. It is a smart and funny examination of the perils of fame and how two people as different as Koresh and Cobain may actually be more alike than expected. For anyone that is fascinated by pop culture phenomenon (and if you are reading Klosterman it is a requirement) this is a brilliant piece. His examination of In Utero, Nirvana’s controversial follow up to their break though smash Nevermind, is smartly researched and incisive. I’m a casual fan of Nirvana, I have all their albums yet I don’t think Cobain was a rock messiah, but Klosterman got to one of the things that always drove me nuts about post Nevermind Nirvana. Namely that Kurt still wanted to be seen as anti-establishment, and went to great pains to do so, even while he was a millionaire.

The majority of this review has been written about one 25 page essay in a book that has 15. This is because most of the others are not nearly as compelling. However, it may be that I just am not the target audience for all of them. One essay on 80’s basketball player Ralph Sampson went completely over my head, namely because I don’t watch (or like) pro basketball. Another sports essay on the rise of the Read Option in pro-football held my interest as Klosterman recounted the various changes to the game over the years.Klosterman is an extremely talented writer, but sometimes he seems to be writing to impress more than impart knowledge. The book is loaded with footnotes, and the occasional reference that may leave you scratching your head. That is unless you are familiar with Christian metal band Stryper as well as the works of Kierkegaard.

That is what is ultimately frustrating about Eating the Dinosaur. For every interesting insight, like the pervasive use of laugh tracks in early sitcoms and how they may have irrevocably altered our social interactions, there is one on road movies that is so light weight I’m not even sure what he was going for.

Still, there is enough good here that I recommend it if you have an interest in the same things that Klosterman finds interesting. If you are someone that has had conversations with your friends comparing and contrasting Appetite for Destruction & Use Your Illusion, or discussing the obstacles of time travel, or if you have ever read the Unabomber’s manifesto, you are in the Klosterman demographic. The essays are hit or miss but that likely depends entirely on the reader. The good is entertaining enough to outweigh the bad.


rusha24’s #CBR4 Review #2: How To Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen

As a big fan of Jonathan Franzen’s fiction, particularly The Corrections and Freedom, I was happy to receive his book of essays How To Be Alone for christmas from a good friend. The dozen or so pieces are collected from his previously published work in places like The New Yorker and Harper’s, most of them from the mid 90s. This time-frame is evident in a present reading of the book, as some of the essays have held up better than others. He hits the same subjects over and over–television’s assault on our imagination, technological encroachment on our human psyches, essentially, how to survive as a reader or writer in a ubiquitous cyber culture–and while he succeeds more often than not, Franzen too frequently comes off sounding downright solipsistic. Which is understandable, considering this is first-person journalism, but it runs the risk of smugness–the very critique his fiction most frequently draws. The bottom line however, is that Franzen can fucking write, and his dazzling prose and often profound insights into the preservation of a colony of readers and writers are worth the read, perhaps now more than ever.

Franzen is at his best in this collection when he’s most personal. Probably intentionally, the piece that opens the book is “My Father’s Brain,” a very intimate and moving portrait of Franzen’s father’s descent at the hands of Alzheimer’s. Around the central story, a son’s retelling of his father’s fight for dignity, Franzen manages to weave in musings on memory, on parents, on the struggle to retain one’s self in the face of dementia. Contrasted to this type of personal vulnerability, the essays on Chicago’s postal service and the evolution of America’s big cities read as book reports–sharp, witty, and critically aware, but somehow less compelling.

The longest piece is titled “Why Bother?”–a new name for a famously talked-about essay originally known as “The Harper’s Essay,” in which Franzen essentially assessed the health and prognosis of the American Novel. Appearing in this collection significantly cut and edited, the essay is still just as provocative as the first time around. While he so passionately attacks social atomization via cyber culture and admirably argues for the preservation of genuine community through reading, Franzen’s own position within the canon he desperately wishes to preserve makes it hard to take what he says completely at face value. Similarly, in a deeply personal essay about maintaining privacy, he sometimes seems contradictory. But throughout the book, Franzen’s voice is exhilarating in its plea for our engagement in social criticism. To some, he’ll reek of elitism, but it’s a risk worth taking if it compels you to think about what it means to be a reader in today’s world.

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