The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, The Tomorrow Girl, The Shambling Guide to New York City, Cooked, Republic.com
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is probably Junot Diaz’s most famous book, given that he won a Pulitzer for it. It bears more than a passing resemblance to This is How You Lose Her, although it isn’t organized in quite the same way. The narrator is Yunior, the same main character as This Is How You Lose Her, but this book focuses around Oscar Wao, who is a Dominican nerd, unlucky in love and with a family curse (“fuku”). The book follows his attempts to fit into life with his Dominican relatives, and to find happiness.
The best part of this book for me was undoubtably the footnotes that mixed Lord of the Rings references with Dominican history - I would have read an entire book of just those. But I actually liked This Is How You Lose Her much better, because it more accurately and clearly showed how flawed the narrator was - here, Yunior comes off as far more omnipotent. Yunior’s narration made it hard to believe the stories he told about Oscar. It’s a fun book, and well worth a read - a little more traditional than This is How You Lose Her.
The Tomorrow Girl is a collection of Aaron Diaz’s current webcomic, Dark Science. Yay Kickstarter-ed graphic novels! You can read this entire thing online. I enjoyed the collected version quite a bit, but more for the Dungeons and Discourse sections than for the actual story about Kim. I love Aaron Diaz’s art, but I find that it’s hard to keep track of the plot of Dark Science, since it updates so slowly and switches around quite a bit.
I think I first read about The Shambling Guide to New York City on BoingBoing, and I was glad to be able to find it. It’s a novel that basically explores a urban fantasy world through the eyes of a main character who has to write travel guides for ghouls, zombies, fae, vampires, etc. The writing is clever and fresh, and the premise is fun. Perfect light summer reading.
Cooked is Michael Pollan’s new book, where he explores the four elements, each through perfecting a specific dish. Whole pig barbeque is fire, braising is water, bread is air, and fermented veggies is earth. Basically, it reads like a Pollan book - a grain of truth surrounded by pronouncements and imperious statements, interesting facts weighed down by implied moral values, etc. The most striking part of this book for me is how each section about how people should cook more had a set of sentences that responded to implied criticism around “forcing women back into the kitchen.” It really seemed like he protests too much, and that somewhere along the way, he missed the point of the criticism. It’s oddly defensive, in a book that has so many better things to be defensive about. Verdict: If you really have a hankering for more Pollan, this won’t disappoint. Otherwise, it will.
Republic.com is one of the early books of the cyberlaw field, written by Cass Sunstein. (Worth noting that I didn’t read Republic.com 2.0, the older copy was lying around the office.) In contest to Sunstein’s later work on behavioral economics (like Nudge), this book is concerned with the functions of First Amendment discourse. Additionally, Sunstein postulates an early version of Eli Parsier’s The Filter Bubble - he worries that as a result of increasing personalization, Internet users will be cut off from opinions unlike their own, leading to polarization, a lack of dialogue and a breakdown in democratic values. He suggests a number of solutions, many of which do not stand up to the the test of time.
Most interesting about the book this far in retrospect is how many testable conclusions Sunstein made that didn’t come true - the polarization and balkanization of news sources has certainly happened, but it’s hard to tie it to any real consequences, and many of the “Daily Me”-based nightmare scenarios he constructs just no don’t ring true. Still, Republic.com should still get credit for producing some of these concerns before the more nuanced and structured critiques of today.