Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's All Art

In college, when postmodern was such a revelation and performance art entered our vocabularies, we used to look at the pizza boxes stacked in the branches of a tree or the postcards someone would write his dreams on and mail to random people from the phone book and say, philosophically, "It's all art."

I've been reading Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott, and I think the point she's trying to make with this book is, "It's all God."

Now, when you read a book with a subtitle like Thoughts on Faith, you expect that message, and I'm not at all bothered by the message. It's really one of the reasons I loved Traveling Mercies and Plan B so much; because she was talking about faith as something that gets you through the day.

But this book just doesn't live up to that. She's come to the point of being one of the reasons I'm skeptical of memoirs--they're too often just anecdotes about lives of people whose lives are really only marginally more interesting than mine, and really, mostly just grimmer. Her first two books painted her as a marginally neurotic recovering alcoholic who was working hard on herself and learning life lessons as she went. This book, though almost identical in structure and nature, takes that description and eliminates the word "marginally," her work doesn't seem to be getting anywhere (short temper, complete inability to handle minor setbacks), and her slice of life anecdotes are actually quite hard to find lessons in.

I got through it because it was a fast read. But I can't recommend it, I'm sorry. Though I have to say, I'm still looking forward to reading Operating Instructions, the memoir of her completely unprepared first year as a single parent.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Where Have I Been?

She cracks her knuckles and gets down to it: where have I been, dear reader? Well, some life changes have been going on in the old Hungry Homestead, as well as some vacationing and some packing, but I missed you. I'm also ashamed to admit that I've barely read 5 books this month--and that's if I don't even bother to count the Babysitter's Club books, which, well, I normally do. They only take an hour, but each one is such a perfect little miniature world that I can't wait to find out if Jessi wins the gold medal at the Stoneybrook Athletic Festival, or if Dawn has the courage to be friends with the girl with Down's Syndrome. (The answer to both questions, for the curious, is yes.)

But I'm really here today to talk about a book I'm not quite finished with: Intuition, by Allegra Goodman. I've been speedreading it this weekend (which is not to say skimming; rather, ignoring other important tasks in favor of reading this book), because I let it languish till it was due, and can't renew it because it's so popular. It's one of those hot young "now" books that's been reviewed six ways from Sunday, and is very popular. I have to say that I actually had more doubts than anticipation because of that.

No doubts necessary, the book is good. It's a very close-up look inside the politics of a research laboratory that's having some unprecedented success. The plot of the book get quite interesting--a search for truth, perhaps a fight against injustice, or perhaps selfishness driving people to do things they might not otherwise--but it really is intended as a character study.

It's interesting; working in any office, you know at least a little about politics, about working with tricky personalities, about charm and bitterness. There's a lot here that most people can relate to. But you're also definitely learning about a lab, where funding is tight, where the goal is glory, where people with expensive educations earn almost no money because they're trying to make it in their field, and the competition is fierce, but the group is family. This is most definitely their world. I recognize some emotions, some personalities, bits and pieces; it feels real. But I bet some researcher out there is reading this book and laughing in nervous recognition.

I could be wrong, of course; what do I know about research science and its politics and personalities. In fact, some of the characters seem so very....well, intense, maybe?....that they felt rather caricature-ish to me at first. But as the book goes on and things develop, I began to see them as those people who do seem caricature-ish when you meet them in real life. But I have to say, even if research science doesn't look anything like this, she totally convinced me. And really, isn't that the point?

Edited to Add: Please don't misjudge the book based on the cover in the sidebar link. It looks like chick-lit, but it's really, really not. The cover of my copy doesn't look like that. I don't know why they would use that cover; I'm going to write an irate letter or something.