Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I read this great book called Divergent by Veronica Roth. Roth is a recent college graduate, which is infuriating, if you're like me and get infuriated by the success of youth. (grrr! Why aren't I successful? Plus, even if I do get successful, I won't be youthful anymore!)

Anyway, I won't say much because I don't want to spoil it, but it takes place in the futuristic burnt-out Chicago, where the Lake is actually a Marsh, and society is split into different factions. When you're 16, you choose your faction, and that's your faction For Life. And, if you get expelled from your faction or whatever you're "factionless" and that's like Worse Than DEATH. Because you have to clean up garbage and stuff.

The main character is born into Abnegation, which is a selfless faction that tries to be really empathetic and helpful, but she decides to go into this other faction called Dauntless, which is all about bravery and strength. If they ever go somewhere, they run. If they get on a train, they only jump on or off (I never quite figured out what they would do if the train happened to be stopped when they arrived, but, they'd probably just hang back and then jump on when it started moving.)

It's quite similar to the Hunger Games because once you choose a faction, you have to go through an initiation to prove yourself and, if you don't make it... FACTIONLESS. (Plus a strong female character, feats of strength, love interest in unlikely character...)

I think Chicagoans are going to straight up LOVE it - I really enjoyed the parts that had to do with The City. And, fans of the Hunger Games are likely to be on board too. The only bummer is, I discovered HG right at the end, when all the books were already published, but the next two in this 3 part series haven't been published yet. *frowny face*

Maybe Dauntless was formed with good intentions, with the right ideals and the right goals. But it has strayed far from them. And the same is true of Erudite, I realize. A long time ago, Erudite pursued knowledge and ingenuity for the sake of doing good. Now they pursue knowledge and ingenuity with greedy hearts. I wonder if the other factions suffer from the same problem. I have not thought about it before.

Despite the depravity I see in Dauntless, though, I could not leave it. It isn't only because the thought of living factionless, in complete isolation, sounds like a fate worse than death. It is because, in the brief moments that I have loved it here, I saw a faction worth saving. Maybe we can become brave and honorable again.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Learning to Read

I loved this article in the New Yorker by Salvatore Scibona, How I Learned to Read. He writes about how he went to a unique college in New Mexico, St. John’s College where they focus on the classics. (Anybody heard of this place?)

Got me thinking about where I learned to read... I read a lot when I was a kid and just about anything I could get my hands on. I wasn't really a critical reader 'til about grad school, though (hence my love of Ayn Rand in high school*).

From How I Learned to Read:

By senior year at St. John’s, we were reading Einstein in math, Darwin in lab, Baudelaire in French tutorial, Hegel in seminar. Seminar met twice a week for four years: eight o’clock to ten at night or later, all students addressed by surname. On weekends, I hung out with my friends. The surprise, the wild luck: I had friends. One sat in my room with a beer and “The Phenomenology of Spirit,” reading out a sentence at a time and stopping to ask, “All right, what did that mean?” The gravity of the whole thing would have been laughable if it hadn’t been so much fun, and if it hadn’t been such a gift to find my tribe.

In retrospect, I was a sad little boy and a standard-issue, shiftless, egotistical, dejected teen-ager. Everything was going to hell, and then these strangers let me come to their school and showed me how to read. All things considered, every year since has been a more intense and enigmatic joy.



Saturday, June 04, 2011

Emerald City, Jennifer Egan

I am, of course, I big Jennifer Egan fan and loved her collection of stories in Emerald City. All of the stories were terrific but there were definitely a few that stood out. This collection seemed to have a focus on far-flung travel, which was kind of interesting. The first story, Why China?, is about a family on vacation in China who run into a man the dad knew and distrusted in America. I also really loved a story called They Stylist, about a group of people shooting a young model (from Rockford, IL - shades of Look at Me) in some beach location.

Egan's made a bit of a kerfuffle recently, not just for winning the Pulitzer but making some perhaps ill-thought-out remarks about fellow writers, for which she has apologized. I find it interesting that there a quite a few celebrity apologizes floating around right now - like Lars von Trier and his ridiculous Nazi comments at Cannes. Seems like a lot of people are all, Let's forgive Lars von Trier already, but I rather respect France's (collective?) decision to say, Lars von Trier, you're out of our lives. Jennifer Egan, on the other hand, is very forgivable.

Flavorwire, my new favorite website, claims Egan and Jennifer Weiner had a "feud" - I wouldn't go that far, but Weiner did groan (appropriately) at Egan's comments. The same story recalled a(n actual) feud between Colson Whitehead and Richard Ford. Apparently Whitehead said amusing things about Ford and Ford actually SPIT on him at some event. Now I'm really paranoid when I write a critical review for my new gig at Newcity that someone's going to spit on me.

That wouldn't happen, right?