Tuesday, May 15, 2012

May Featured Boswell's Best Nonfiction.

Jason works very hard on updating our Boswell's Best 20% off selections every week, but I don't really do that great a job of keeping you informed of what they are. Today's the kind of day where I just want to look at books, so here are four that I'm browsing.

Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down, by Rosencrans Baldwin (FSG). Like many bookstores, we can sell pretty much anything set in Paris. One wonders whether the expats of the 1920s were as hungry for the inevitable book contract a writer gets after settling in the City of Light. And where are all the memoirs about living in Munich? Baldwin goes there with his wife Rachel for an advertising job, but finds himself without enough time and money to be either a flaneur or a gourmand.

Apparently there is something called "Paris Syndrome," as described in the Wall Street Journal review. Thomas Chatterton Williams notes: "Though more than 15 million foreigners visit Paris annually—it is the most visited city in the world—Paris Syndrome is not exactly a pandemic. But it is the extreme end of a spectrum of disappointment to which all visitors to Paris will feel susceptible, if they linger long enough."

In Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior  (Pantheon), Cal Tech physician Leonard Mlodinow (he of The Drunkard's Walk) gets a little into brain science, examining how we misperceive our relationships, and misremember events. Do we actually categorize people by the animals they resemble?

Mlodinow is a fascinating character, having made forays into video game design, science fiction, collaborations with Stephen Hawking, and writing for Star Trek (as noted in the Los Angeles Times profile). That he is at Cal Tech makes me imagine another Leonard, Mr. Hofstadter of The Big Bang Theory. He's said to be just as funny also--perhaps there's inspiration here?

Speaking of characters, Augusten Burroughs would certainly qualify, having built a name for himself with a series of memoirs and essay books. Though folks have certainly used his work as prescriptive, he's tackled the self-help field head on in This is How: Help for the Self, Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude, and More, For Young and Old Alike (St. Martin's).

The book jacket reminds one of an ad for patent medicine, which is actually contrary to the advice in the book. I'm a little surpised at the discordance. He's more of an advocate for personal responsibility. The Boston Globe notes "Burroughs has plenty to say, and most of it is right on the money." Read the rest of the review here.

And finally there is Terry Eagleton's The Event of Literature (Yale), "a concise, witty, and lucid book" that asks what the nature of literature actually is. I take that description from the publisher, but I inserted the serial comma as that is my nature. Eagleton's works touches on various disciplines, but he's best known as a Marxist theorist. Literary theory was the hallmark of many a college English department for many years, and if you want to read more about the passage of many an avid reader into the world of theory, you should probably read Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot.

In Eagleton's new book, he jettisons his traditional approach to literature for a new, more philosophical one. The New Statesman explains it all in this essay.

So what did I notice about this collection of books? They are all pretty much stylized type jackets, with the mirror, heart, and arrow, and even the aging page at one corner of the Eagleton working more like emoticons. And Mlodinow uses a design effect as well, writing faint images of words like "sexy" into the physical cover.

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