Friday, January 15, 2010

Irritant Author

Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers and My Uncle Arthur, New York's Greatest Hoarders (An Urban Historical) Ghosty Men: The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers and My Uncle Arthur, New York's Greatest Hoarders by Franz Lidz

My rating: 1 of 5 stars
I'm not sure I can properly convey how irritating this book is. I picked it up because I've become mildly obsessed with a show on A&E called Hoarders, and I wanted to see what the famous Collyer Brothers had to offer. I'd heard about them -- Homer and Langley Collyer had crammed a Harlem brownstone full of tons of stuff in the early part of the last century and lived as recluses. But instead of giving me the Collyer brothers, this yahoo decided to make every second chapter about his Uncle Arthur, who was also a hoarder. And despite what it says above, there is no "and My Uncle Arthur" in the book's subtitle. I was promised "The Strange but True Story of the Collyer Brothers, New York's Greatest Hoarders."

The list of this author's crimes is significant:
-He apparently didn't have enough material on the Collyers to even write a book. The book is short in the first place and half is about his own family. The Collyer material is minimal and cribbed from other writers. One Collyer chapter is really about the history of Harlem, which the Collyers were not really involved in, since they very rarely left their house. But at least his redundant writing style fills up extra space.
-His writing style is forced and strives too hard for atmosphere. Here he is on an evening in the Bronx with his uncle: "Nightfall flashed hot and jittery, full of frenetic longing that never seemed fulfilled." Ugh. His syntax and narrative twist around so that the chronology becomes unclear. He also repeats himself. Frequently.
-He doesn't confine the non-Collyer material to his Uncle Arthur, but writes extensively about his whole family—including passages of very bad poetry by his relatives—despite having written a whole other book devoted to his uncles. Apparently, he just Can't. Stop. Writing. about them. In fact, the photo on this book's cover is of his Uncle Arthur. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT THE COLLYERS. God.

Around chapter 11, we finally get to some interesting stuff about the Collyer's and their piles of junk, but I'm not sure it was worth it.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Boris and Natasha BS

Child 44 Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
This book was apparently originally intended to be a screenplay, and you can kind of tell. It's a story of the repressive society in Stalinist Russia; the main character is a member of the state police force and we follow him through his transformation from good soldier to skeptic via an investigation into the murders of children. But the characters are all shallow -- motivation is sort of passingly accounted for, and we are told what the characters think and feel rather than given believable reasons for their actions. And his portrayal of the evils of Stalinism is a little heavy handed. I'm sure it was no cake walk, but I don't trust his account -- it was too black and white and his villains are like cartoon villains, with no nuance or complexity. And the ending was ridiculously abrupt and tidy, with the main character impossibly finding a happy ending. In other words, it's easy to see this as a Hollywood screenplay. The book, though, is tedious and annoying.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tangled Affairs

A Severed Head A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I listened to this audiobook on the trip to S.D. for Christmas. It was very enjoyable -- a story about so-called sophisticated people trying to manage their love lives with multiple relationships and extra-marital affairs. The main character seems more concerned with "behaving well" in response to his wife's infidelity than getting angry. In fact, his mild reaction tends to belie his repeated avowals of love for her. That and the fact that he's been cheating on her for some time as well. Ultimately, the strength of his romantic relationships is contrasted with his fairly violent and more encompassing passion for an unlikely character. I really enjoy Murdoch's take on morality and human relationships.

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Monday, January 4, 2010


It seems like nobody in this freezing burg is happier to see me than the folks at Memorial Blood Centers. I'm on a regular donation schedule with them (give once, and they will hound your ass), especially now that I'm more than a year past that very suspect trip to Central America. Blood people are like the CIA when comes to your travel to malarial regions.

But it's not just that I'm a willing donor; I'm a friggin' universal donor! That's right. I'm type O- so I'm attractive to EVerybody. Even better: I'm negative for this one common type of flu virus, so they can use my blood for the preemies. Yeah, I'm all about saving babies. And my shut-in-like lifestyle means I can breeze through all those "risky behavior" questions -- no sex, no needles, no previous sojourns in dirty places like western Europe. My blood is like gold, y'all! And here I am trading it for juice and some Lorna Doones. Is there any way to make money on this deal?