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Review-a-Day

Saturday, October 4th


 

Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood by Julie Gregory

A review by Georgie Lewis

As a reader of memoir where does one separate the voyeur from the concerned and curious observer? Is there a separation? Whatever the motivation, readers continue to buy memoirs in droves. This past year has provided plenty of titillation, insight, intrigue, or simply comfort in the knowledge that there are lives out there that are markedly more creepy than our own. Augusten Burroughs's superb memoir Running with Scissors and his follow-up, Dry, and the just released Los Angeles Diaries by James Brown, to name a few, are the most recent in a long line of memoirs reflecting a childhood scarred by the mental illness of a parent.

And now Julie Gregory enters the fray with her extraordinary book Sickened: The Memoir of a Munchausen by Proxy Childhood. Munchausen by proxy (MBP) is an insidious form of child abuse, and Gregory is the first to document this condition from the eyes of a victim. The term, coined by Dr Roy Meadow in 1977, describes a behavior in which a caretaker (most often ...



Existentialism Is a Humanism by Jean Paul Sartre

An Evening with the Professor

A review by Nicholas Hengen

Thirteen years ago in a New York Times book review, Anthony Gottlieb wrote "It is almost as if Sartre the philosopher had never existed." Since then, the Times has supported this assertion: its only examination of Sartre since 1994 focused on the philosopher's love life, comparing him to "Hugh Hefner -- without the bathrobe, but with a more highly evolved line of patter."

Not long ago, Sartre did matter. He mattered so much that he found himself under constant attack from both left and right -- that is, from communists and Christians. Remembering the protagonists of Sartre's novels, it's...



The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (The Millennium Trilogy #3) by Stieg Larsson

Feminist Justice

A review by Erin Aubry Kaplan

True to its title, this last installment of Swedish author Stieg Larsson's popular trilogy of spy thrillers has the same forces stirred up in the first two books doing grand, final battle, not just for the fate of its female protagonist but for the soul of justice itself. It's high drama full of even loftier metaphors, but Larsson -- who died in 2004 soon after delivering the manuscripts for the trilogy -- was adept at the genre, and Hornet is no exception: taut, detailed and hardboiled in the best detective-fiction tradition. He also radically feminized that tradition by centering the...



James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips

Personality Crisis

A review by Anastasia Masurat

In her biography of writer Alice B. Sheldon, Julie Phillips notes that "like all interesting people, Alli had many sides or selves." And throughout her life Sheldon had more than most: African explorer, high-society debutante, bohemian artist, chicken farmer, CIA agent, and research scientist. However, Sheldon's most notable self was the fictional one she created in 1967, at the age of 51: James Tiptree Jr., science-fiction writer.

What started as a joke (Sheldon found the name in the grocery store on a jar of Tiptree jam) became more than just a pseudonym. Sheldon used scraps of her own...



American Gods by Neil Gaiman

A review by Laura Miller

As with most noir heroes, we meet Shadow, the protagonist of Neil Gaiman's hard-boiled fantasia, American Gods, after he's lost everything. Fresh from doing three years in prison for a stupid crime, he learns that his beloved wife, Laura, is dead, killed in a car accident with his best friend, the guy who'd promised him a job when he got out. To make matters worse, he has a series of unsettling encounters with a persistent older gentleman in a pale suit. Each meeting seems to be the result of extravagantly improbable chance, and the gentleman, who offers Shadow a job as his bodyguard, just...



The Book of Dead Philosophers by Simon Critchley

End-of-Self Help

A review by Alexander Provan

In December 2007, at the annual World Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine in Las Vegas, Suzanne Somers, the actress and bestselling author of Ageless: The Naked Truth About Bioidentical Hormones, delivered a rhapsodic keynote speech in praise of hormone replacement therapy. "I go to these parties sometimes with all these successful men who've really achieved in their careers," she told the enthusiastic, middle-aged crowd. "Seventies, eighties, and they're out of gas. They're just so out of gas! They all sit there, they're drooping -- their face, their body's drooping -- they've all got deep belly ...



Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo by Werner Herzog

This Gravity-Ridden World

A review by Giles Harvey

Conquest of the Useless, the altogether appropriate title given to the journals Werner Herzog kept while making his most famous film in the Peruvian rainforest, weighs in at just over three hundred pages. Dense with the soakage of the jungle -- "Nothing ever gets properly dry here, shoes, clothing. Anything made of leather gets mildewed, and electric clocks stop" -- the pages of Conquest seem to weigh more than the pages of most books. As in one of Herzog's slow-moving films, life comes across as a dark, viscous current through which people arduously wade: remember Kasper Hauser trying and...



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