Quite often when I read mainstream American social science, especially of the “quantoid” variety, I’m reminded of much I appreciate literature. While acknowledging the importance of objective data collection and analysis in distinguishing social facts from all-too-fallible everyday perceptions, I also can’t help thinking that deeper, perhaps more significant meaning goes missing in the process.
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Anyone who has friends or family members with young girls has surely heard the lament—“she’ll only wear pink”. Well, the thing is, from tutus to leggings to skirts, there is only really pink garb for her to choose from at the store. Is the little girl or the clothes manufacturer the chicken or the egg? And when did pink become the de facto girls’ color anyway?
The topic may seem most appropriate for a fluff piece on Today. But Jo B. Paoletti is an academic, and Pink and Blue is meticulously researched, with references to paper dolls, old retail catalogs and the arcane field of material culture studies. Her findings are fascinating, even if her prose can be repetitive.
“There were always books in one’s home back then,” the ripened, white-haired literary lion said, reflecting on his youth in the 1930s from the stage of the Writers Guild (WGA) Theater in Beverly Hills in the summer of 2006. “And there were magazines with words, not just pictures like today.”
John Updike’s appearance at the WGA Theater that evening came in the waning days of an exhaustive and expansive global tour to support and promote his (then) new novel, Terrorist, an underestimated contribution to the catalogue of 9/11 Literature.
The author, whose 1961 novel Rabbit, Run was featured in Time magazine’s All Time 100 Greatest Novels (published 2005), presented a weary and reflective visage when he settled his long, angular frame into a chair on the stage next to the host and moderator of the Q&A session, L.A. novelist and fellow social satirist, Bruce Wagner (The Chrysanthemum Palace, Still Holding).
As my eyes scanned the dimly-lit cavern of the theater, I mentioned to my host for the evening, novelist Diana Wagman, that the median age of the attendees appeared to be forty to fifty years, and quite a few of Updike’s peers in age were present as well. It was also, I remarked, patently absurd that a septuagenarian author of his standing and distinction (more than 50 books of fiction, poetry, and essays under his belt) in such obviously fragile health should be compelled to trot about the globe, hawking his book as if his name was an unknown, untested, commodity.
For an author who has arguably made much of his career out of answering queries that you didn’t know you wanted answers to (how important was salt to the development of human civilization?), Mark Kurlansky has some nerve positing an entire book as one long inquiry. Granted, What? isn’t exactly a tome, at 96 pages it’s the nonfiction equivalent of a novella – the tomette. As macro in focus as his earlier works of nonfiction were monuments of specificity, What? is pleasurable and gamelike, toying with the reader right from the subtitle: Are These the 20 Most Important Questions in Human History – Or Is This a Game of 20 Questions? It doesn’t give anything away to say that question’s not answered.
In 20 short chapters, each focused around a specific interrogative, Kurlansky goes from the obvious journalistic big ones (“How?” “Why?” “What?”) to formulations that appear dashed off at first blush (“What Do We Hate About Children?” “Brooklyn?”) but on further reflection seem more thoughtful, if only slightly – and the answers to those last two, by the way, are: they ask endless questions, and Walt Whitman’s fundamental curiousity.
The Mall is the debut novel of S.L. Grey, the pseudonym of established South African writers Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg. It’s not so much a horror story, as the cover image might suggest, as it is a reflection of the darker side of humanity.
Rhoda needs to get to Highgate Mall as soon as possible to score cocaine from her dealer. She’s supposed to be looking after someone else’s child, but decides to take the kid with her, thinking she won’t be more than five minutes and what’s the worst that could happen? The worst in this case, is that she loses the child, beats up a mall security guard, and has to stay hidden until the mall closes or risk being arrested.