By the pricking of my thumbs, part 2

Somehow I managed not to hear about Paula Kamen’s book Finding Iris Chang when it came out last month, but something today made me remember Kamen’s striking Salon essay about The Rape of Nanking author Chang from 2004, shortly after Chang’s suicide at age 36.  A quick Google turned up this Chicago Reader article  about the book.  The Publishers Weekly review on the book’s Amazon page makes you wonder who wrote it. “Lacking the artistry of Ann Patchett’s recent portrait of her friendship with writer Lucy Grealy”: is Truth and Beauty, a memoir, really the book with which to compare this apparently more journalistic effort?  Then the PW reviewer takes a quick swipe at “the far-fetched, irresponsible conspiracy theories” that briefly surrounded Chang’s death while proclaiming Kamen’s book “a tedious, obsessive, exploitative effort.”  It’s the e-word that really gets me here.  It’s a book by one writer about another.  Apparently the PW reviewer doesn’t find that setup inherently exploitative, since Truth and Beauty comes in for praise despite the fact that Patchett’s book details Grealy’s sex life, drug habits and deepest terrors.  I admire Truth and Beauty greatly, as it happens, and for all I know Finding Iris Chang might not be a good book, but it’s not fair, even in the confines of a 200-word PW review, to chuck the word “exploitative” at Kamen and run. 

The San Francisco Chronicle review does a much more thoughtful job of addressing what reviewer Mary D’Ambrosio sees as the book’s limitations.  It still doesn’t dampen my interest in the book, though I suppose it’ll be at least a few weeks before I can get to it.

What lies ahead: preparing for my local interview (I’ve been reading through the school’s website today).  Teaching.  Grading.  Making applesauce (for a party in the Snork Maiden’s class).  Lots to do, as usual.  Things are starting to seem more manageable as the term winds down at my various places of employment.* Yes, huge drifts of papers are blowing in, but after that we have a forecast of relative calm, followed by milder weather and dissertation flurries.

*Edited to add: Inside the Philosophy Factory nails the “bittersweet joy” of the end-of-term grading: “True, it is sometimes sad that they didn’t learn what we are trying to teach them–but, I always hold out some hope that they learned something else…”


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