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On Beauty by Zadie Smith (review by Karl)   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Tuesday, February 28, 2006 - 01:50 AM
Posted by: kbade

Books

NOTE: This is the second review for Amber Taylor's Blog Book Club. Welcome, readers... take your shoes off and stay a while! If you're o­n the home page, the usual stuff for Monday is directly below this post.

On Beauty is apparently an homage to E.M. Forster's work, particularly Howard's End, updated, with multiculturalism thrown into the mix. Had I read Howard's End, I might have found more cleverness in Zadie Smith's novel. But I suspect that On Beauty would o­nly have suffered more by comparison.

The book sets out to tell the tale of two families of academics. The first is that of Howard Belsey, a professor at an Ivy League university. The second is of that Monty Kipps, Belsey's academic rival, whose politics Belsey loathes and whose success Belsey seems to envy a bit. However, the narrative centers o­n Belsey's marriage (which is in trouble following his infidelity) and their children, who are entering or close to adulthood and searching for their own paths.

Unfortunately, I generally found myself not caring about any of the characters in the book. It takes a bit of skill to engross a reader (or, in the case of a mover, the viewer) with a tale in which no o­ne is particularly likable. I suppose Howard's wife, Kiki, is meant to be the most sympathetic, but she ultimately turns out to be not much different from Carlene Kipps, o­nly less self-aware. Moreover, none of the characters was so eminently dislikable that you could love to hate them, or root for the others by way of contrast. Perhaps this is a sign of the subtlety of Smith's prose, but the book -- particularly the first third -- left me flat. I liked the second act better, but was left unsatisfied by the third.

When I don't care much for a story, the nitpicking items grate all the more. Smith does not seem to have spent much time in the US, if her use of language is any indicator. The characters, particularly the younger o­nes, used words or constructions that American kids generally do not -- even those in the Ivy League. I also thought her portrayal of university politics to be surreal, though some might disagree. As Larry Summers resigns as president of Harvard with a big bootprint o­n his behind, the notion that a similar faculty would unanimously approve the oh-so-controversial Monty Kipps lecture series struck me as a little far-fetched.

I will say that Smith was quite evenhanded in representing the substance of the politics of the various characters. And there were scenes where I thought she captured the ambiance of the university environment well, such as her description of the poetry class field trip. Her treatment of Carl was also interesting in its suggestion of the ways in which academic study can destroy talent. But I've already heard that analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog -- the subject tends to die in the process. Thus, it was interesting, but not enlightening. And these small virtues would not induce me to recommend the book to others, except possibly Forster fans.

The main discussion of the book will be going on at Prettier Than Napoleon. Next month's selection is Saturday, by Ian Mcewan. Feel free to join the club.

5596 Reads

The Sex Pistols, The Hold Steady, Songwriters and Chimps with Tools   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Monday, February 27, 2006 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: kbade

Karl

3984 Reads

Loose Fur, Jenny Lewis, Toronto bands, Hog and Bongo update   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Friday, February 24, 2006 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: kbade

Karl

6040 Reads

Buzzcocks, Jolie Holland, Calexico and a New Breed of Poison Toads   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Thursday, February 23, 2006 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: kbade

Karl

BUZZCOCKS guitarist Steve Diggle talks to Pitchfork about the birth of punk, musical legacies, and the last days of Kurt Cobain: "So that New York sound inspired us. It's almost like what black music did to inspire the Beatles and Rolling Stones. The Dolls and the Ramones-- it was an urban street music. We have streets and urban situations over here, and we took it and adapted it in a British way, and wrote about things that were relevant to us." You can (and should) hear the single and the title track from their upcoming album at MySpace.

JOLIE HOLLAND: The singer-songwriter from San-Fran-by-way-of-Texas (and sounds it) announces her third album, Springtime Can Kill You, is coming in May. There are guilt-free downloads to be had via her label.

EX-BOYFRIENDS singer/guitarist Colin Daly, talks to Avesion about living with the power pop or punk-pop label: "There's a huge difference in my book between Fountains of Wayne and Good Charlotte. One band composes music imbued with intelligence and a wry sense of humor while the other rewrites the same song over and over and just changes the key. You can guess which is which." They have four tunes streaming at MySpace.

NEIL YOUNG: Aquarium Drunkard is killing music with a live bootleg collection, Perfect Echo Vol. 1, '67-71.

SIMON WILLIAMS: The longtime British music critic plays Jukebox Jury with Seattle Weekly while discussing what's wrong with music and the NME today.

MORRISSEY does another Q&A with fans at True To You, including some reflection o­n his former self: "I find it shocking to look back at the period of The Smiths and to reflect upon the magnitude of doom that surrounded me every single day. I have no idea how I made it through my 20s..."

SEEN YOUR VIDEO: Or maybe you haven't seen Maximo Park play "Apply Some Pressure."

CALEXICO: *Sixeyes is killing music -- just a little with a leaked track from Garden Ruin, which comes out in April. Interestingly, Alan writes that the track is a "surprise" after ten "exemplary" tracks that generally follow the influences Calexico fans have come to expect... which certainly implies he's heard the whole album.

WE ARE SCIENTISTS: My Old Kentucky Blog is killing music with the B-sides to their UK singles. Who cares about what's o­n the flip side of the record? I do!

JULES SHEAR stopped in at the World Cafe and can be streamed from NPR. Sadly, he does not play "If She Knew What She Wants."

THE TEN BEST ALBUMS you can find in almost any American thrift store for a dollar, courtesy of One Louder.

KISS singer Paul Stanley is writing new songs with a boyband called the Click Five.

PETE DOHERTY UPDATE: The troubled singer is photographed smoking crack cocaine just two weeks after vowing to kick his drug habit.

TOM-KAT UPDATE: In the face of a threatened lawsuit, Life & Style magazine is upping the ante with reports that: Tom-Kat made it seem like they were buying a house in Ohio for the benefit of the paparazzi: Holmes hates Cruise's obsession with his own image; and her dad hopes the two are dunzo, planning to make sure she gets custody and cash.

NICOLE KIDMAN is going to beat Cruise to the altar, if Us Weekly is to be believed.

JOAQUIN PHOENIX, apparently inspired by playing Johnny Cash, goes to the school of rock with the Who's Roger Daltrey.

KID ROCK got a court order blocking the sex tape featuring him, former Creed singer Scott Stapp and four women. It may be the best thing he's done in years. Getting the court order, that is.

GREY'S ANATOMY: T.R. Knight (Dr. George O'Malley) confirms to the AP that shooting the shower dream sequence was "a blast!"

GEORGE CLOONEY and RENEE ZELLWEGER caught canoodling at Clooney's BAFTAs afterparty? I ask because every time you say "caught canoodling," an angel gets its wings. Get me! I'm givin' out wings!

BRITNEY SPEARS -- when she returns from Hawaii -- may want to ask Spenderline who the woman in these photos is. She may also want to consider whether kissing Madonna triggered her reversal of fortune.

GWYNETH PALTROW has become a fan of the cult vintage British comedy show The Two Ronnies, which she considers odd, but which I consider a hope that she's developing better taste.

JACK BLACK in a movie by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), adapted by Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, Eightball)? Count me in... though there's Nacho Libre first.

BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN shirts are auctioned for over 100K to longtime gay activist Tom Gregory: "They really are the ruby slippers of our time." Someone with too much time o­n his hands has recreated scenes from the movie in Lego. And the pirate DVD of the movie made it to Turkey, where it gets a politically incorrect title.

PRESIDENT LOGAN'S ADDRESS: Gregory Itzin, who plays the weaselly POTUS o­n 24, talks about what he's learned from the role: "I understand why people get the way they are. Even the small amount of time I've been doing this, I'm being told to be honest with the American people, and I can see how, why, these people are never honest with the American people. If you told the American people, really, what the world was like, there would be a collective nervous breakdown. So I understand why they become paranoid and secretive and private and closed-mouthed and shifty-eyed and all those things." ALSO: There may be a 24 movie trilogy in the works.

BRADGELINA: Pitt denies reports he agreed to a multi-million dollar divorce deal with Jennifer Aniston.

DENISE RICHARDS is dating John Stamos to "stick it" to ex-hubby Charlie Sheen. But inquiring minds want to know if Richards is sticking it to Stamos. Or vice-versa.

IRAQ: Terrorists blew up the golden dome of Iraq's holiest Shiite shrines Wednesday, triggering more than 90 reprisal attacks o­n Sunni mosques and threats of civil war. However, major Sunni groups joined in condeming the attack and top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani forbade attacks o­n Sunni mosques. Some Shiite politicians already angry with the US wanted to partially blame US backing of secular parties, but as Omar notes at Iraq the Model: "I believe there are foreign terror groups behind this attack and I don't think local insurgent would do such a thing, simply because this particular shrine had been in Sunni territory for a thousand years and the residents of Samarra had always benefited from the movement of religious tourism and pilgrimage." If this opinion becomes widely held, this attack may serve to further split Sunni insurgents from the foreign fighters backed by Zarqawi.

CARTOON JIHAD: Religious riots continued in Nigeria, though they also have deeper roots than the cartoon controversy. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross tallies the cost of the riots to date. The New York Times (registration-free via the IHT) reports that -- unlike Denmark -- moderate Muslim journos publishing the cartoons are caught between their repressive governments and Islamic extremists.

PORTS IN A STORM: Pres. Bush was unaware of the pending sale of shipping operations at six ports to business owned by the United Arab Emirates until after it was recommended for approval, which included review by US intell agencies. And as I suspected yesterday, there is a confidential side deal requiring the company to cooperate with any future US investigations. The Administration is gettin support from establishment media like the WaPo and the WSJ, though such may not matter if the opposition is populist or nationalist in nature. Liberal blogger Kevin Drum notes that other port operators are blase o­n the issue, but hopes that the issue will bring more focus to port security. If the government did not conduct 45-day investigation required by law when a foreign government is involved in a deal, Bush probably should say that it will be done and take the time for everyone to take a closer look at the deal.

CATERWAULING: The Chicago Fire Department doesn't usually rescue cats from trees, but four nights of wailing through freezing temperatures and fur-drenching rains brought them in.

GIRL WEDS DOG to ward off the "evil eye" o­n her and her family in eastern India.

OPOSSUM RSCUER is warned by the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources that she can own orphaned baby opossums, but cannot rehabilitate them.

A NEW BREED OF POISON TOADS has just been discovered deep in a Venezuelan cave so vast that two helicopters can comfortably fly into it and land next to a towering waterfall. Pics at the link.

LOST WORLD UPDATE: The "lost world" of unknown and rare species unafraid of humans that was discovered high in the misty jungles of western New Guinea is under threat from climate change, according to a new study. And since we found out about the "lost world" o­nly a few weeks ago, I'm sure that's o­ne rigorous study.

DOG POOP: San Francisco wants to harness the power of dog poop to create methane gas that could be piped directly to a gas stove, heater, turbine or anything else powered by natural gas. How long until someone points out that California thinks methane is a major driver of climate change, trapping 21 times as much heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

3646 Reads

Sid N' Susie, Monty Python, Hot Tortoise-on-Tortoise Action   Printer-friendly page   Send this story to someone
Wednesday, February 22, 2006 - 08:00 AM
Posted by: kbade

Karl

5250 Reads

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