Kirkus Reviews is the sort of bible of book publishing. The publication, along with Publishers Weekly, sets the tone for reception of new works, guiding book buyers, book sellers, book reviewers, and book readers. A Kirkus review is not guaranteed an author, and a good Kirkus review is like manna from heaven. So I’m immensely relieved that The World According to Joan Didion just got its first review, from Kirkus, and it’s a good one. It’s not long, so I’ll quote the whole thing here.
A biography of a significant American writer.
Most of us have a Joan Didion origin story: the article, or book, or photograph, or quote that first made us want to know more about this quiet oracle,” writes journalist McDonnell, author of Mamarama and Women Who Rock. When the author was in college, she read Didion’s essay “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream,” which asked what happened to the American dream, “the theme of much of [her] work.” Thus was born a lifelong appreciation for one of America’s most noteworthy stylists. McDonnell covers all the relevant biographical details: Didion’s Sacramento childhood; her early years writing for New York magazines; and her family life, which included the tragedy of adopted daughter Quintana Roo, who died at age 39 in 2005 (the subject of Didion’s Blue Nights). The author also offers personal reflections on Didion’s importance to her life and career as well as interviews with people who knew her, including Calvin Trillin and Gay Talese and nephew Griffin Dunne. Admirably, McDonnell notes that Didion was a more complicated figure than many of her fans acknowledge. She grew up in “deep American conservatism,” “never lost her distrust of big government,” and voted for Barry Goldwater in 1964. She had a habit of “glamorizing consumption,” which her early stint at Vogue underscored. Also, “when it comes to being an icon for women, Joan Didion can be deeply problematic,” starting with her “mean-spirited attack on second-wave feminism,” which “revealed her blindered privilege”—although she would moderate these opinions in later works. Overall, McDonnell offers a thoughtful assessment of Didion’s importance but doesn’t shy away from Didion’s flaws—e.g., that she struggled with motherhood. During her childhood, Quintana Roo “made a list of her mother’s favorite sayings: ‘Brush your teeth, brush your hair, shush I’m working.’ ”
I’m way late posting this here (it was a hectic fall!) but I reviewed Tina Turner’s and Dorothy Carvello’s memoirs for The New York Times. “There has been a steady stream of accounts of assault, harassment and discrimination in recording studios, at record labels and at music magazines; pick up any autobiography of a female musician and you’ll find at least one anecdote that will turn your stomach. R. Kelly, the Runaways, Kesha — stories of abuse long preceded Harvey Weinstein, and continue to trigger news alerts. The real question should be, why haven’t these stories provoked more outrage against a form of oppression that is clearly systemic, along with a push for change?”
I am actually a bit overwhelmed by the outpouring of tributes to David Bowie. I was listening to Blackstar on Sunday, loving it, intrigued by it, critiquing it. I listened to it with a whole different heartset yesterday. As I told my students, Bowie managed to merge the avant-garde and pop like no one else. Yes, I loved his music. But what’s most intriguing to me is how influential he was on the women whose music subsequently has captivated me. For Alice Bag, Cherie Currie, Kari Krome, etc., he was THE inspiration to rebel rebel, to turn and face the strange changes.
On Sunday, as this pale style icon kept singing to me in my car, “I’m a black star, I’m not a pop star,” I pondered the Thin White Duke’s relationship to appropriation: his obsession with black music, feminine manners, and gay culture. Is it theft, as I think many of my less tolerant students would think? Or is it, as Eric Lott coined it, love and theft? I wondered what Greg Tate would think. And thanks to this amazing, smart, loving remembrance, I now know.
Devon Maloney wrote a very brave, controversial article about why she quit her job as music editor of the LA Times after four months. She brings up issues that are central to the chauvinism of music criticism, the lard-ass-ness of legacy journalism, and the privileged passion of Millenials. I would love to hear readers’ take on Devon’s story.
When I opened my browned Paul Beatty manila file folder to prepare to interview the writer once again, I realized that it had been 25 years since I first introduced myself to him after seeing him read at the Poetry Project in the East Village. He was a great writer then, albeit of poetry rather than prose. He’s a brilliant novelist now. I caught up with Paul again to discuss the ribald satire of his latest book, The Sellout, for the Los Angeles Review of Books.
In his wide-ranging travelogue Rebel Music, Hashim D. Aidi offers a very different portrait of global Islam than the image of violent extremism that has dominated the news. I wrote this review for the Journal of the American Academy of Religion back in December, but its publication online could not be more timely.
Writer/scholar/thinker/activist Jeff Chang spoke at LMU today about racial politics of the last 50 years and the return of the culture wars, topics covered in-depth in his new book Who We Be: The Colorization of America. His analysis was gentle, thoughtful, and extraordinarily timely. Highly recommended.