Category Archives: Bookbilly Reviews

Amber Nicole Brooks on Eve Ensler’s In the Body of the World

The Hooch: News & Events

Our dynamic nonfiction editor Amber Nicole Brooks prepares readers for our forthcoming Skin issue with a tribute to one woman who started an important conversation on the topic, Eve Ensler, via Ensler’s new book, In the Body of the World:

Author of The Vagina Monologues and one of Newsweek‘s 150 Women Who Changed the World, Eve Ensler has given the world an arresting memoir of wondrous breadth, In the Body of the World (Metropolitan Books, 2013). Ensler’s voice is vulnerable, fierce, and acutely aware. A list titled “Scans” divides the book into fifty-three sections, including “Somnolence,” “Falling or Congo Stigmata,” “The Stoma,” “Crowd Chemo,” “Riding the Lion,” “Shit,” and “Joy.” The scans, metaphors, and variants of pain at first seem to create a fractured vision. However, as the narrative accumulates layers, and in a way heals itself, its preoccupations, Ensler indeed makes the vision whole.

Through her experiences…

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Sunday Update: November 9, 2014

I’m loving Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel. I assumed I’d enjoy it, as I absolutely loved The Virgin Suicides. Middlesex is different, in that it’s a multi-generational tome. But, it’s lovely and somehow classic and modern at once. The well-educated, self-aware narrator comments on the postmodernist method of narration, but really, it’s done so well that the complexities and oddness of it may very well not at all distract the casual reader.

I find myself still in the middle of Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby, Susan Sontag’s Styles of Radical Will, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. More than halfway through The Faraway Nearby, I think I had simply misplaced it. Styles of Radical Will, however, turned out to be far more scholarly, or less-fun, say, than I’d imagined it would be. I picked up both the Solnit and Sontag books based on seeing the writers referenced in other works, primarily essays by women: specifically, I think, Lelsie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams (which everyone needs to read, by the way). It’s hard to keep track! Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is a Little Free Library score; we have several of them in my neighborhood. I love my neighborhood.

Friday, I presented a paper titled “Amateurs” that outlines the parallels between the disciplines of writing and boxing. It’s primarily a synthesis of scholarship but also includes my own primary research, a splash of memoir. I was on a panel representing The Georgia Carolinas College English Association (GCCEA) at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association conference (SAMLA). SAMLA is always a little bit weird to me, me who feels more comfortable at the smaller state or regional conferences where I know more people. It’s as if, at SAMLA, every person I make eye contact with and would perhaps then introduce myself to then begins speaking in French. Not speaking French nor harboring a fanatical passion for any highly specialized area of research makes me feel inadequate. But only for a moment. I digress.

I’m still working on a group of essays: shopping some around, finishing some up, ignoring long lists of remaining research questions. I’m being tormented by a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel I outlined two summers ago, wondering if it is meant to be a novella, a long short story, or nothing. After receiving a complimentary rejection from Algonquin, which encouraged me to keep sending the manuscript out to other editors, I’m shopping Ash around to more small presses.

Finally, I just realized my first line sounds like a McDonald’s commercial, but I’m not going to edit it. Instead, I’ll let us soak in the colloquial rhythm and decide how depressed to be about that insidious unrealized representation of capitalist America that crept into my prose.

Review: I Want to Show You More, by Jamie Quatro, Grove Press 2013, 206 pp.

Purchased / Reading With: The Starboard Sea by Amber Dermott, Summer Reading edition of Tin House

Type of Book: Loosely linked short stories / story cycle

My Research Interest: For entertainment

Structure: 15 stores of varying length, set around Lookout Mountain on the border of Georgia and Tennessee

Impression: I knew these stories would be “good” and “competent” short stories, because I trusted the recommendations. However, I was not prepared for the aching psychological depth of these stories. Quatro’s characters and narratives are not superficial, and anything but slight. This impression was solidified when the fourth story, “Here,” made me cry. I do not cry often when reading, yet this book made me tear up at least three times. Quatro demands the reader consider the mysteries, pains, and joys of parenting, marriage, illness, death, fear, and faith. The stories are intimate, visceral, and very much for today—but also timeless. The book is dark and light at once, challenging the reader to reconcile the two.

Readability: Everyone should read this book. This is one of those books that, if read with an open heart, will make the reader a better person.

Review: The Fight, by Norman Mailer, 1975, 234pp.

In The Fight, Normal Mailer chronicles the first Muhammad Ali – George Foreman fight, which took place in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) in 1974. The narrative reads as a novel, Mailer speaking of himself in the third person; he cleverly and charmingly justifies this choice of perspective early in the story. Mailer spends much time exploring the new Zaire in addition to having access, at times exclusive, to Muhammad Ali at his training camp, in the dressing room, after the fight. But the book is not just about the fight or Ali and Foreman, as Mailer takes readers through months leading up to the big event.

Besides the actual bout, a great portion of the narrative chronicles the complexity of the newly named Zaire and its leader Mobutu, who has wished to bring the fight to his people for purposes of publicity and politics. The complexity of the society in the Congo, the layers of languages and tribal affiliations, the baffling gestures of posturing by the dictator, provide a provocative and fascinating backdrop to the normal players: the boxers, the trainers, the entourages. Everyone, sportswriters included, are trapped in a way, sometimes literally, in this foreign place.

Vivid scenes include cameos of George Plimpton, Don King early in his career as a boxing promoter, a discontent Hunter Thompson, among others. Mailer’s keen observations create sharp depictions. His analysis provides more questions than answers about the cultural flux of the United States as well as Africa in the early 1970s—in terms of race, race relations, and identity. Mailer does well examining his own assumptions. Especially following Ali, a spokesman at this point in his career, it is impossible for Mailer to not consider all these different versions of “blackness” he encounters. The Fight is as much about culture as it is about boxing.

Mailer’s own internal struggles with the ideas of luck and courage—his seemingly random yet inescapable necessity to will himself to swing from his hotel balcony to another, risking a deadly fall—weave other threads through the story. Courage and luck are universal concepts, but they are also hot pulses of, inextricable from, boxing.

All that really needs to be said here is that I read this book in one sitting, minus getting up for snacks. I can’t recall the last time I flew through a book like that. The Fight is a compelling account of history that illustrates why Norman Mailer is considered one of the best writers of the twentieth century. Of all the boxing-related books I have read so far, and there have been many, this is the most enjoyable, the one I would recommend first.

Review: The Sweet Science by A.J. Liebling, 1956 (2004 edition), 267pp.

Originally published in 1956, Liebling’s The Sweet Science chronicles the bouts of top boxers from June 1951 to September 1955. The 2004 edition includes a forward by Robert Anasi. The book is organized into five main sections: The Big Fellows, The Melting Middleweight, The Big Fellows Again, Other Fronts, and Ahab and Nemesis. For example, The Big Fellows follows Joe Louis versus Lee Savold. The next section, The Melting Middleweight, begins with Sugar Ray Robinson and Randy Turpin.

Throughout the book, Liebling refers back to Pierce Egan, who coined the term “sweet science,” and his Boxiana from 1812: “Egan’s cockney characters, and his direct quotes of how they talked, were a gift to Dickens, who, like every boy in England, read the author of Boxiana.” Liebling quotes Eagan frequently enough to sate my current curiosity, saving me from hunting down the original 1812 Boxiana; or Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism; from the days of Broughton and Slack to the Heroes of the Present Milling Era.

What makes the book interesting is not just the facts of history, but the lively, personal, conspiratorial voice. The reader follows Liebling scene by scene, down streets, in pubs, in cabs, in arenas and training camps, through discussions with trainers, fighters, observers. Each scene is dressed with real people and sensations of life: “Two seats at my left, which had been vacant all evening, were now occupied by a couple. The girl, a smashing blonde in a backless black evening dress, must have expected that she was going to sit out in ringside, where people could see her. A woman somewhere behind her said, but not to her, ‘I call that a vulgar way to dress.’ It seemed to cheer the blonde, but the man with her looked uncomfortable.” The prose here should be cherished not only for the historical chronicling of boxing, but for capturing the American cultural milieu of the early 1950s.

In addition to detailing a cultural landscape, Liebling infuses his prose with wit and humor: “There seemed to be some correlation between their eyesight and where they had placed their money.” A love of language and wordplay is clear: “One writer, reporting the victory, said Olson was a ‘burned-out hollow shell,’ which is like merging Pelion and Ossa, or Ford and General Motors, in the cliché business. He must have meant the shell of a broiled lobster after a shore dinner.” Tidbits such as the fact that Rocky Marciano’s last name is Marchegiano, Marciano “a contraction adopted for the convenience of fight announcers,” provide great nuggets of trivia. Some lines, like this description of Marciano, are just great lines: “He doesn’t verbalize his cockiness, but he has a kind of negative confidence, like a sleepy bulldog.”