Book Roundup

I'm not sure what exactly Reach is--an exorcise book, I guess; Bajema is a troubled man--but it has much in common with the bulk of the 2.13.61 catalog in that it's intense, amplified, and frighteningly earnest. You get the feeling that these people (attitude czar Rollins, Bajema, etc.) are not simply insincere, but that they completely lack a sincerity gene.

Slouching along in Bajema's overreaching burnout staccato, Reach is full of read-out-loud highlights:

Eddie's mind has become a prisoner. The battle for his soul was lost before his age had two digits. The remainder of his life becomes an anguished search. In the dark. In strange terrain.

It is understandable that he would eventually lock himself up, hiding from these cities filled with cannibals, like vultures, up to their necks in the chest cavities of the fallen dead, their spasms twitching to music they try to call their own.

Irresistible as classic K-Tel, Reach is further evidence that 2.13.61 is well on its way to becoming the City Lights of the Beavis and Butthead set. (Brad Zellar)

Douglas Coupland

Polaroids from the Dead

ReganBooks/HarperCollins

I KNOW I should hate Douglas Coupland but I can't get my heart into it. If the entrails-readers of zeitgeist are to be believed, Coupland's books are irony-drenched, shallow, and self-pitying. And while I'll readily concede the last point, I'd contend most detractors are still envious that Coupland invented the term Generation X--or, rather, first conceived to lift it from Billy Idol's eponymous band. Polaroids from the Dead, Coupland's new collection of articles, essays, observations, and semi-fictions, is another deft act of recontextualization, appropriating the methodology of new journalism for a recon mission into post-postmodernism.

But where Tom Wolfe's writings were strictly a search-and-destroy affair, Coupland has moved in successive books from Life After God to Life After Irony, the idea here being that the simple identification of idiocy is no longer a meaningful act. These Polaroids--scenes from a dying Grateful Dead culture and psycho-geographies of Washington, D.C., Palo Alto, Brentwood, and the new Berlin--represent real attempts to describe the civic life of a culture that no longer values things civic (or, for that matter, things living). There are two starting points for this inquiry: solipsism and modern design. Coupland's erudition, however, does not end at the tip of his nose or the doors of the Guggenheim. He is sincere--maybe a little too sincere. (He signs his introduction "My finest regards... Doug.") And pithy too. So. Many. Short. Sentences. But as Coupland would say--rather, as Coupland does say, in its own paragraph on page 104:

"Whatever."

Yet this writer has a unique ability to translate pop culture into metaphor. Consider this paragraph, where Coupland recalls constructing Life-magazine montages as a child, in imitation of pop artist James Rosenquist: "From... 1948 to 1962 the imagery was at its most generic--its Sears Roebuck-iest--when guns and butter were roaring ahead full blast. In 1955 it was not an issue for Hormel or Van de Kamp's to spend X-thousand dollars to show a full-page photo of ham." Twenty years later, Coupland is still wielding safety scissors and paste, putting that ham on the page. (Michael Tortorello)

Robert Bly

The Sibling Society

Addison-Wesley

Reading Robert Bly's latest effort out loud to a friend elicited the following response: "Is the person who wrote this book retarded?" No, Robert Bly is not "retarded" (please forgive the insensitive use of the word); Mr. Bly has won the National Book Award after all, and his book Iron John, a pat on his fellow MAN man's back, was number-one on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list for more than a year. We must therefore, unfortunately, take him seriously.

Bly starts out "It's the worst of times; it's the best of times," which, although quite unoriginal, is perhaps the best sentence in the book. He goes on to complain that people are becoming more and more adolescent in their morals, their needs, and their desires, thus relating to one another as siblings instead of as elders and children. Bly comes off sounding like the generic old crank who has fallen out of touch with contemporary culture and therefore resents it. Case in point: He discusses the resentment young black men feel toward American society, which he says shows itself through rap. Says Bly, "Their despair is beginning to resonate through the entire culture; that is why suburban children want rap music." Such pat explanations are, alas, par for the course. Maybe if he had had a younger person to talk to, he would have learned that all rap is not despairing, and perhaps suburban kids listen to it because (as with the spread of all musical styles--jazz, punk, or techno) it's fresh and exciting; they can dance and sing to it, and their parents can't.

But you know the preacher's in trouble when he starts taking examples from Mrs. Doubtfire to substantiate his arguments. Then he goes on to tell us that he "first encountered the sibling culture of ingratitude when I was a student in college in 1947.... Teachers damaged my self-esteem by reminding me, quite accurately, that I knew nothing. But on the other hand I was glad to hear that, as a modern, I was superior to all my ancestors (and yours)." Yeah, whatever; methinks that the indifference Bly complains about in The Sibling Society is more a result of the culture's reaction to him than it is a cultural epidemic. (Amanda Ferguson)

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