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A BINGEWATCHER’S NOTEBOOK

A gentler companion to Harlan Ellison’s The Glass Teat (1970), the only flaw of which is that it’s too short, leaving...

Eminent literary and cultural critic James (Latest Readings, 2015, etc.) comes back to an old beat: reviewing the offerings on the small screen.

The TV critic for London’s Observer from 1972 to 1982, the author briefly revisits some of the standards of the time, such as Hill Street Blues, while allowing that the landscape has much changed: time-shifting technology affords us the leisure of devouring a season or two of Game of Thrones or The West Wing at a sitting, binge-watching not what the networks necessarily want us to watch but what we wish to. Part of the critic’s work is to tell us precisely what we should wish to watch, of course, and here James, though doffing high-toned intellectualism, settles for the more elevated fare, about which he writes with unfailing insight. What makes The Sopranos, a James favorite, tick? There is a grammar of genre, and Tony Soprano is not entirely free to operate outside of it, even as David Chase broke some of the old rules; just so, James writes, the captains of the Star Trek franchise are all generic representatives of the “principal elder” archetype, even the youthful James Kirk “back in the innocent days of William Shatner’s first hairpiece.” Ranging among box sets of Band of Brothers, Mad Men, The Tudors, and the like, James delivers sometimes-profound aperçus (“the new mythology gets into everything, and the first thing it gets into is the old mythology”) and humorous asides: David Tennant, the erstwhile Doctor Who, will probably not be pleased to be described, with respect to another series, as “the only weirdly half-bearded middle-ranking policeman in England,” though Téa Leoni, of Madam Secretary, might appreciate James’ remark that “she looks the part, her lithe grace rising in stature from not being chased by Jurassic raptors.”

A gentler companion to Harlan Ellison’s The Glass Teat (1970), the only flaw of which is that it’s too short, leaving readers wanting more.

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-300-21809-1

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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