I'm always reading one or two books, but I never write about them. So here are a few words about the last five books I've read, starting with the one I just finished.
Simon Wells, She's a Rainbow: The Extraordinary Life of Anita Pallenberg: The Black Queen. It's probably impossible to write a boring book about Anita Pallenberg, and in fact, I stuck with She's a Rainbow for no other reason than to see what Anita was up to next. I feel like Wells overstates her importance, but I did buy this book, released this year, so obviously I find her interesting. Of course I wanted to read about Performance, and it's there, although Wells doesn't offer much new. It's nice to have her whole story in one place, but I wish the book were better. Wells is an idiosyncratic writer who sometimes seems to be unaware of how to structure a sentence, although I finally realized it's just one quirk, repeated endlessly. A sentence will suffice for evidence: "Draped over her old friend, musician Richard Lloyd, at Xenon’s, one opportunist snapper, Ron Galella, captured a truly derelict Anita as she vainly attempted to avoid the camera’s lens." No, Simon, Ron Galella was not draped over Richard Lloyd.
Anne Helen Petersen, Can't Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation. I've long been a fan of Petersen, who has a PhD in media studies and who studied the history of the gossip industry. In an interview, Petersen said, "After I turned in my dissertation, I was hungry to write in a non-academic way ... [I] began writing pieces on the intersection of celebrity, feminism, and contemporary media for other places as well—all while working as a full-time academic. The academic job market is rough—and when the visiting professorship I had ended, I couldn’t find another job. But I had been subconsciously building a 'life raft' of sorts away from academia for years with my writing." Her Facebook page, "Celebrity Gossip, Academic Style", is a must-read, as is her newsletter, "Culture Study". Can't Even does an excellent job of identifying burnout, but I wasn't always convinced that millennials are notably different re: burnout than the rest of us.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are. Even with things I read only recently, I tend to forget rather quickly exactly why I chose a particular book to read. Such is the case with Everybody Lies. Stephens-Davidowitz calls himself an "internet data expert", and in this book, he explains why he thinks "Big Data" (i.e. all the stuff Google knows about us and everything else) is crucial to understanding our world today. In the Internet/Google era, there are no small sample sizes. Everybody Lies is a first step ... the data is so immense, and there are so many questions to be asked. As for the "Everybody Lies" part? Stephens-Davidowitz stakes his claim from the start: "The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else."
Nick Hornby, Just Like You: A Novel. I rarely read fiction, but I almost always read Hornby, who hooked me with his first book (Fever Pitch, which happened to be non-fiction). Hornby was the first writer to be tagged within the genre "Lad Lit", and to be honest, it fits. To my eye, he has gotten better with his female characters, and he's certainly not afraid to move outside of what he might immediately know. Just Like You is the story of a romance between a 42-year-old white woman and a 22-year-old Black man. Like a lot of Hornby's fiction, the characters are believable, but the story feels a bit slight. That could just be me.
Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band: A Memoir. Makes an interesting pair with the Anita Pallenberg biography, in that Pallenberg's influence in the music world was based mostly on her relationships with musicians, while Gordon's place in music history comes from her membership in Sonic Youth. I've never been the biggest Sonic Youth fan, but I enjoyed reading about the life of a "girl in a band" from the girl's perspective. And Gordon's book revolves less around gossip than does the Pallenberg bio. The lesson, it appears, is that if you want it told right, tell your own story.