Book review: The Emperor, by Ryszard Kapuściński

THE EMPEROR : downfall of an autocrat, by Ryszard Kapuściński. Translated from Polish by William R. Brand and Katarzyna Mroczkowska-Brand. New York: Vintage, 1983. 164 pp. ISBN–10 0151287716 Forty years ago today, the deposed absolute ruler of Ethiopia died in prison after more than 40 years on the throne. Haile Selassie, the Lion of Judah, […]

Book review: Our Great Big American God

OUR GREAT BIG AMERICAN GOD : a short history of our ever-growing deity, by Matthew Paul Turner. New York: Jericho Books, 2014. 241 pp. ISBN 9781455547340 This is a book about the history of Christianity in America, written by a young, white, evangelical blogger from Nashville, Tennessee. As best I can tell, Matthew Paul Turner […]

How to review stuff

Tim Carmody at Snarkmarket wrote a thoughtful essay on reviewing books, movies, and other works in the new-media environment. In a nutshell, he points out how swarms of reviews posted at Amazon (for example) can have competing objectives, centering on what he labels immanence versus transcendence.1

immanence n.
The “thingy-ness” of an artwork, its physical form as we experience it. Examples: As digital media proliferate, a book might be experienced as a weighty hardcover, a Kindle file, a set of Google Books snippets, or a misquoted excerpt encountered in someone’s blog.

transcendence n.
The “ideal, imagined, almost Platonic form” of a work of art that transcends all our particular experiences of it in various forms. Example: The Godfather is recognizable as The Godfather, whether we encounter as a signed first edition of Mario Puzo’s novel, a much-abused paperback in a movie tie-in edition, or the first disc in the Blu-Ray release of The Godfather Trilogy. Unless we’re focused on the history of the immanent forms themselves (the novel, the paperback, the movie on DVD), we usually treat them all as versions of the same work.

The difference between these helps explain a gap between traditional newspaper reviews, which emphasize the value of the transcendent work, and consumer reviews at Amazon and countless other sites, which are more likely to focus on the particular experience with one (immanent) form of the work. Continue reading “How to review stuff”

teh kidz r alright

A cartoon rabbit seated in front of a glowing TV set, saying "This calls for immediate action."

I was recently directed to yet another complaint about the decline of literacy, the corrosive intellect-leaching power of digital technology, and our collective guilt for letting Western civilization subside into a mire of tweets, blogs, and gaming.

iPhones Have Consequences, by Sally Thomas, is a witty, engaging essay on the subject, supported by memorable anecdotes. I believe it delves deeper into the question than most such efforts, and it’s well worth reading.

I feel I must address her argument that the present college generation is dumber than we forty-somethings, seeing as I’ve argued exactly the opposite. It’s my view that the forty-somethings are the dumbest generation currently on offer, and the so-called “twixters” or “tweens” are more curious than we, and have read more and thought about more than we had at their age. Continue reading “teh kidz r alright”

Fifteen books

This is one of those Facebook memes: a list of 15 books that matter to me, written down in the order I thought of them, without reflection or editing. I scribbled it down last year, felt satisfied, and forgot to post it. So here it is for whatever it may be worth. Continue reading “Fifteen books”