This week, Football Book Club will be reading Pulitzer Prize winner Steven Millhauser’s Edwin Mullhouse, as well as posting essays about Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright, lamenting the awful truth about life without the NFL, and probably marveling at the insanity of L. Ron Hubbard.
This week, Football Book Club will be reading Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright and posting essays about Brain Fever by Kimiko Hahn -- its selection from last week — and life without the NFL. Going Clear was a National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and has been turned into a documentary by HBO.
According to the elves at Goodreads, I’ve read 70 books so far this year, a feat made possible by the fact that I finally figured out how to get New York Public Library audiobooks onto my iPhone. Many were...just fine. Others had me pushing the fast forward button like a post-operative patient with a morphine drip. A few, like Helene Wecker’s The Golem and the Jinni, were serendipitous discoveries. I was underwhelmed by one series of novels that writer friends have been urging me to read for years, but I was also forced to rethink my Hands-Off-Classic-Literature! position by Jo Baker’s Longbourn, which was just wonderful. (Also by the recently televised Death Comes to Pemberley, but I don’t suppose that counts…). Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall lived up to its ecstatic reputation (though I'm not sure I’d have been able to follow the action if I hadn’t recently watched The Tudors on television...). I decided to read Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography in anticipation of The Public Theater’s coming tour de force, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton (which I was lucky enough to see in workshop), so when I go back to see it another 10 times I’ll know more about the man’s life and times. My all-around picks for the year? Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief, a scrupulously researched dissection of the cult. (Yes, cult. What, you thought I was going to call it a “religion”?) And John Searles’s Help for the Haunted, a beautiful novel about the natural -- rather than the supernatural -- kind of haunting. Finally: praise for Elizabeth Alexander’s memoir, The Light of the World, a meditation on grief and life, which will be published in April 2015. More from A Year in Reading 2014 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
I started the year with Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. I live in Los Angeles, which is Scientology ground zero. For years I had heard stories, seen the Tom Cruise freakout video, watched the guys with the E-meters on Hollywood Blvd. But I didn’t know much about the history of Scientology other than, “L. Ron Hubbard thinks aliens detonated hydrogen bombs in volcanoes.” Damn. It’s more insane than you can possibly imagine. And the best part is that this isn’t a hatchet job by Wright, he tries so hard to be fair to Scientologists, meticulously researching everything and presenting it in an unbiased way. It’s just that the each story is more bonkers than the next. Wright is also a brilliant narrative nonfiction writer, so it’s a pleasure to read. During the American Librarians Association Conference, I was able to get an advanced reading copy of Edward O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence. His last book, The Social Conquest of Earth, was mind blowing. He’s the world’s leading scientist on ants, who just happens to, late in his career, be writing these treatises on why humans are the way they are. He’s tackling BIG PICTURE questions that hardly anyone else is. I have so many scribbles in the margins of this book that it’s practically defacement. The two best books in my genre (that is to say, DEATH) this year are Being Mortal by Atul Gawnade and Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell. Being Mortal is a great introduction to the problems with how we care for the elderly and dying in the U.S. We’re in such denial about the state of eldercare that we are wildly unprepared for the baby boomers to start dying, and there is going to be untold suffering because of it. Having someone as prominent as Gawande writing about it is a good start. I’m not generally a fan of crime-forensics (shows like CSI, Bones, etc). But Dr. Judy Melinek is a stone cold professional. Working Stiff is the opposite of sensational, it’s a look into the world of the people in the trenches of the medical examiner’s office. It’s not a glamorous world, you have to care about your work, you have to know what you’re doing, and you have to be comfortable with death, or it will chew you up and spit you out. More from A Year in Reading 2014 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.
The finalists for the annual National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award have been announced. The fiction list includes one of the biggest fiction releases of last year and a book in translation. As often tends to be the case, the NBCC is offering up what may be the most well-rounded fiction shortlist you'll find. Here are the finalists for fiction and non-fiction with excerpts and other links where available. As a side note, the NBCC award is particularly interesting in that it is one of the few major awards that pits American books against overseas (usually British) books. Finally, this was first year of the new John Leonard Prize, which goes to a debut work and was awarded to Anthony Marra for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. Fiction Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch (excerpt, Janice Clark's Year in Reading, Adam Dalva's essay) Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, Americanah (excerpt, the author's Year in Reading) Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (excerpt, Dani Shapiro's Year in Reading) Alice McDermott, Someone (excerpt, the author's Year in Reading) Javier Marias, The Infatuations (excerpt, our review) Nonfiction Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, Whitey Bulger (excerpt) Sheri Fink, Five Days at Memorial (excerpt) David Finkel, Thank You for Your Service (excerpt) George Packer, The Unwinding (excerpt, our review) Lawrence Wright, Going Clear (excerpt, Aleksandar Hemon's Year in Reading) For more on the NBCC Awards and the finalists in the other categories, visit the NBCC.
I’ve been dipping in Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics and Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, for no particular reason, other than that I like thought -- I’m sick of the relentless, numbing emotionalism of American culture. Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks deserves every bit of attention and success it has received, for the way it addresses the ethics of science and race. Also, I am a huge fan of historical characters that would be forgotten if it wasn’t for a talented, curious writer who doesn’t succumb to the pressures of being in this (boring) moment. Thus I loved Monique Brinson Demery’s Finding the Dragon Lady: The Mystery of Vietnam’s Madame Nhu. It took me only a couple of days to read Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief. One of the things we are good at are the systems of thoughtlessness -- witnessing the dissection of one of them was both rewarding and disheartening. I’m a huge fan of Graham Robb’s work, particularly his biography of Rimbaud and his books on Paris and France. But Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century was a revelation in the power of its conviction and erudition. I loved Laurent Binet’s HHhH, its intelligence and ethical commitment. Gary Shteyngart is one of the funniest people alive, but Super Sad True Love Story is not just very funny, it is also sad and sadly true. And it is, of course, the centenary of the publication of Swann’s Way, the first volume of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, which is one of those miraculous books that gets better with every re-reading. And I’ve gone through dozens of books on soccer in 2013, but I’ll just mention two: Barca: the Making of the Greatest Team in the World by Graham Hunter and Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning by Guillem Balague, both full of great stories, meticulous research, and recollections of great soccer matches. In my entire life, I’ve read only one book about American football, which I despise every day of my life. But Rich Cohen’s Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football is one of the best sports books I’ve ever read and now I have something to talk about with men at Thanksgiving. Looking into the future, I enjoyed and admired Rabih Alameddine's An Unnecessary Woman (coming out in February 2014), because it is a book about reading (as translating), and full of love for it. Presently, I’m enjoying Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s Panic in a Suitcase (July 2014) -- it is funny and smart, inventive and poetic, makes me want to write down every other sentence. And I shudder to think it is only her first book. I read a lot, so I’ll stop here. More from A Year in Reading 2013 Don't miss: A Year in Reading 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005 The good stuff: The Millions' Notable articles The motherlode: The Millions' Books and Reviews Like what you see? Learn about 5 insanely easy ways to Support The Millions, and follow The Millions on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr.