The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom…

The Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age — By Jeffrey Rosen
I really liked this book. Some of it is about the issues of balancing security and privacy issues in a post-9/11 world, especially how people in general aren’t good at assessing options and risks, and prefers whatever makes them feel safer. But what I was really interested in was observations about crowd behavior, a subject I’ve been interested in since college. I especially liked Chapter Five, Identity Crisis, which would work just fine as a standalone article. It includes observations on the New York Times Portraits of Grief, blogging, reality television, and some historical stuff going back to Alexis de Tocqueville… just my kind of thing.

Exposing Ourselves

Book CoverThe Naked Crowd: Reclaiming Security and Freedom in an Anxious Age — By Jeffrey Rosen

I really liked this book. Some of it is about the issues of balancing security and privacy issues in a post-9/11 world, especially how people in general aren’t good at assessing options and risks, and prefers whatever makes them feel safer. But what I was really interested in was observations about crowd behavior, a subject I’ve been interested in since college. I especially liked Chapter Five, Identity Crisis, which would work just fine as a standalone article. It includes observations on the New York Times Portraits of Grief, blogging, reality television, and some historical stuff going back to Alexis de Tocqueville… just my kind of thing.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

Book CoverThe Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures — By Anne Fadiman

This is one of the most compelling works of journalistic nonfiction that I have ever read. It’s also one of the saddest and most disturbing books I’ve read. It’s the story of Lia Lee, born to a Hmong family in Merced, California. Lia has epilepsy– the title of the book is the Hmong term for this frightening condition. Over the next several years, Lia’s life is marked by multiple medical crises, and much mistrust and misunderstanding between her loving parents and her dedicated doctors, all of whom sincerely want the best for the little girl. The little girl’s case ends in disaster, despite many well-meaning (but often misguided) attempts at intervention, including removing her from her home.

This book is fascinating, fair-minded, and frustrating– it’s difficult to read this sad and very human story.

Sitting in China

Sitting in China — By Michael Wolf

This is a collection of photographs of chairs, stools, benches, walls and other places where people in China sit. There are seats of every type, from the elegant to the makeshift seats Chinese people use to sit along the street and eat, sleep, work, talk, play cards and otherwise observe the street life. Old chairs, tied together with string, stools padded with rags– images of the way that the Chinese make do. This book reminds me of my time in China better than any book of scenery.

I suppose this doesn’t really count as part of my reading life, since it’s a book without words, but it’s definitely a book I recommend.

The Clothes They Stood Up In and the Lady in the Van

Book CoverThe Clothes They Stood Up In and The Lady in the Van — By Alan Bennett

This slim paperback is an interesting pairing of two short pieces. “The Clothes They Stood Up in” is the tale of a stodgy solicitor and his bored wife, whose life is turned upside down when they return home one night to find their home completely empty. Losing a lifetime’s worth of possessions affects and changes them in subtle and different ways, as does their ultimate recovery of them. It’s a spare, sad and witty story.

“The Lady in the Van” is a surprisingly appropriate companion piece. It’s the true story of Miss Shepherd, an independent, strong-willed, elderly woman who lives in a van stuffed with all her possessions, parked just outside author Bennett’s door. Their odd relationship, recounted mostly through Bennett’s journal entries, is also both sad and funny. I was so taken with this account that when I finished it this morning I went to the library to get Bennett’s collection of nonfiction pieces, Writing Home, in which it first appeared. I was rewarded with two photographs, one of Miss Shepherd herself in her Rambo cap, and one of the van.

The Journalist and the Murderer

Book CoverThe Journalist and the Murderer — By Janet Malcolm

Malcolm explores the uneasy, seductive and ethically complex relationship between journalist and subject, interviewer and interviewee, seen through the example of the lawsuit between convicted murderer Jeffrey MacDonald, and author Joe McGinniss, author of Fatal Vision. Malcolm is painfully aware that while examining the relationship between journalist and subject, she also participates in these relationships with the people she interviews, including MacDonald.

Janet Malcolm’s examination of this troubling topic is especially interesting in light of her own experience in this area. She was sued by Jeffrey Masson over misquotations in a New Yorker article and her book In the Freud Archives. For more about this controversial book and its author, see this Salon article by Craig Seligman.

Trainsmoking

Book CoverStranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions — By Jenny Diski

More memoir than travelogue, the author writes about crossing the Atlantic as one of a few passengers on a freighter, and then travels around America by train. Nothing much happens along the way, but her musing about the nature of travel, the relative joys of sociability and solitude, and the landscape of the imagination as well as the real one outside her train window is always interesting.

Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History

Five Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History — By Helene Stapinski
The author’s story of growing up in Jersey City, in a large and loving, if not always honest, family. It’s as much a book about the history of Jersey City and Hudson County as it is about her own experiences there, in a tough environment where everyone’s on the make or on the take, living off the swag that falls off the back of the truck. A sad and funny book– one that I found particularly interesting having my own experiences and connections in Hudson County.

(And if you’re interested in books about this part of New Jersey, I also highly recommend
The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of a City
by Robert Sullivan and Snowshoeing Through Sewers: Adventures in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia by Michael Aaron Rockland.)

Growing Up Crooked

Book CoverFive Finger Discount: A Crooked Family History — By Helene Stapinski

The author’s story of growing up in Jersey City, in a large and loving, if not always honest, family. It’s as much a book about the history of Jersey City and Hudson County as it is about her own experiences there, in a tough environment where everyone’s on the make or on the take, living off the swag that falls off the back of the truck. A sad and funny book– one that I found particularly interesting having my own experiences and connections in Hudson County.

(And if you’re interested in books about this part of New Jersey, I also highly recommend The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of a City by Robert Sullivan and Snowshoeing Through Sewers: Adventures in New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia by Michael Aaron Rockland.)

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