The Grammarians are twins, obsessed with language and indulged in their love by their parents, and it’s a funny family comedy, featuring their psychiatric uncle as the prophet of doom. As they move into adulthood, they turn into grammatical enemies, one prescriptivist and one descriptivist, and the story bogs down into something that only a grammar-obsessed reader can love. In other words, enjoy the first half.
Monthly Archives: October 2019
There Will Be No Miracles Here starts and end in a combative and confusing mood–but do persevere to the (vast) middle part, which tells the story of a rough childhood, followed by a football scholarships to Yale and entry into Wall Street. This is not a simple success story, and the author takes great care to explore the stunning contrast between his impoverished neighborhood and the halls of power, as well as the prejudices and twisted logic that allow schools and other institutions in poor neighborhoods to wither while the rich congratulate themselves on helping a chosen few to escape.
You would be bitter, too.
The central character In the Garden of the Fugitives is a man who uses his fortune to buy women, under the guise of scholarships and fellowships to pursue their creative endeavors. Through correspondence, years later, with one of his almost-caught victim and beneficiary we hear about his story, his wife’s, and that of the beneficiary. There are many interesting tidbits in the book, including about archeological practices in Pompeii and white guilt in South Africa, but I found the story plodding and curiously cliche-bound, even if, or perhaps because of its globe-trotting, travelogue feel.
Nobody’s Victim: Fighting Psychos, Stalkers, Pervs, and Trolls is the memoir of a lawyer who defends the victims of stalkers, rapists, revenge porn online stalkers, and worse. It contains very graphic personal memories as well as client stories that are often terrifying, not only for the perversity and violence of the perpetrators but also, more troublingly, by the inept responses of the authorities–as in a student raped by another student outside school being told to stay home (no sanction for her rapist), or a woman reporting online harassment who is told by police to just go home. And that does not include opening one’s door to a SWAT team when the stalker has called in a boomb threat to one’s house.
The author makes the point that the legal structure is slow to keep up with new, online harassment techniques (and online providers also slow, and deaf to victim’s pleas to remove utterly offensive materials, under the cover of defending free speech.)
I could have done without the combative tone throughout, and the level of language, but found the book illuminating. It would be good to include some of the stories in the basic “health” classes that high-school students suffer through. Online violence is a real danger, and one that parents and teenagers underestimate.
Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals is a delightful exploration of adolescent animals of all kinds, including penguins, wolves, hyenas, whales, birds, and humans. The authors, a biology professor and a science journalist, show how teenagers of all species learn to feed themselves, navigate hierarchies, stay safe, and find a mate. (Curiously, they discuss feeding themselves last!) They are able to knit together stories of completely different animals into a satisfying whole and convincingly present key elements of the life of teenagers and young adults: risk taking (even in rodents, who are eaten by owls mostly as adolescents), quick learning from others’ bad consequences of risky behavior (rather than their parents, seen as too old, and too staid), anxiety (shelter dogs who are attacked as adolescent are likely never to shed their fear-based aggressive tendencies), privilege (yes, even with scrub jays, who inherit their territories from their parents), and, my favorite, the ability to sometimes overcome privilege deficits through deft social navigation (by a young hyena, in the book).
They also introduce two wonderful words, which really should exist in English: mamihlapinatapai, the awkward longing of a young would-be mate, and zugungruhe, or migration anxiety. A great science book that reads like a novel.
Breathe: A Letter to My Sons is both a memoir of the author’s experience of racism, sometimes blatant, as with the high school teacher who was a great teacher, but only for the white kids in her class, sometimes less obvious, in the Ivy-League universities where she studied and now teaches, but still there. There are some touching moments, as when she explains who Jesse Jackson is to her sons, for whom he would be lost in the past, and others when she laments along with other parents the loss of boredom in favor of screens.
Two jurors on a murder trial start an affair while the jury is sequestered at a local hotel in The Body in Question. It is highly irregular behavior for fellow jurors, and one of the two has an ailing husband at home. They think they stay on the down low, but secrets are hard to keep in closed quarters and the affair will have grave consequences for the trial, not just the two jurors involved.
I loved the first part of the book, with the claustrophobic description of the sequestration and the inner workings of the jury. What happens afterwards is both expected and more humdrum.