A non-native’s savvy study of Japan’s wide influence in ways both subtle and profound.

PURE INVENTION

HOW JAPAN'S POP CULTURE CONQUERED THE WORLD

A nerd- and generalist-friendly look at how Japan shaped the post–World War II world, from toys to Trump. Alt, a longtime “localizer” of Japanese culture for English-language audiences, considers Japan’s pop-culture influence through two lenses. The first is product-based: He delivers deep, engaging histories of totems such as toy jeeps, which sparked an industry that helped the nation pull out of its postwar economic doldrums; manga and anime, which reflected the growing cultural ferment, especially among youth protesters; karaoke machines and Hello Kitty gear, which made sweetness profitable; and the Sony Walkman, a symbol of the nation’s knack for innovation and 1980s economic might. Alt has a collector-geek’s enthusiasm for all of these, but he also thoughtfully considers the social trends that produced them. (Hello Kitty, for instance, embodies “kawaii,” an unreconstructed adorableness that echoed the boom years and also inspired the likes of “Super Mario Brothers” and Haruki Murakami novels. Alt’s second lens has more of a social element: Exploring the country’s “lost decades” after the ’80s, he looks at how schoolgirl culture, certain anime films, video games, Pokemon, and the internet responded to the pall that had fallen upon an aging and economically strained society. Alt is particularly sharp in his writing about “otaku,” a subculture of hardcore anime fans who feel deeply disassociated from mainstream society, establishing a disenchanted mood that persisted even as the country’s fortunes improved. That attitude coalesced around the website 2channel, which in turn inspired 4chan, Grand Central Station for alt-right memes and Trumpy trends. It seems a bit of a stretch to reduce American habitués of dank online forums to a politically influential expression of otaku, but Alt does persuasively show how Japan’s economic fortunes influenced America’s, and his book neatly summarizes how the future “will be made everywhere else, with values borrowed from Japan.” A non-native’s savvy study of Japan’s wide influence in ways both subtle and profound.

Pub Date: June 23, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984826-69-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

THINKING, FAST AND SLOW

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011

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