The Strange Case of Edward Gorey by Alexander Theroux

This post originally appeared on I Read Odd Books

Book: The Strange Case of Edward Gorey

Author: Alexander Theroux

Type of Book: Non-fiction, biography, utter pants

Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: Because it is a biography (ostensibly) about odd-icon, Edward Gorey.

Availability: Published by Fantagraphic Books in 2010, you can get a copy here:

Comments: As biographies go, I guess you could say this is one. But if you love a good biography, you’re not going to want to read this book. You may not even want to read this review.

But if you, like me, are a Gorey fan, you will both buy this book and read it even after I tell you it’s largely a worthless read. Gorey fans, like all fanatics, want to read anything and everything about the man. I am a moderate Gorey fan. I have one of his drawings tattooed on my body, I have a little shrine set up to him and one day I want to have a collection of Gorey first editions. So even with the status of being just a moderate Gorey fan, I know that had I read a review like the one I am writing before I put this book on my Amazon wish list, I would have purchased it and read it anyway (actually, my copy is a Yule gift from Mr. Oddbooks). Because that’s what an ardent fan does. We collect things relating to the object of our adoration, even if those things are mediocre.

This book has interesting moments but they are few and far between, and those moments are generally content that will not be new to long-term Gorey fans. Still, it was pleasant being reminded of how eccentric Gorey was, how he eventually stopped wearing fur because of his love of animals, how he sewed stuffed animals by hand as he watched television, how he would do work for anyone who asked, even those who could pay very little.

But after one admits that this book has some charm, one can only list its many problems. The first is that in the first fifteen pages, Theroux manages to write in a way that is so alienating that a casual reader might be tempted to give up. I am a reasonably intelligent woman who has devoted my adult life to reading. I fancy that if a reasonably well-educated person with a devotion to books found Theroux’s verbiage cumbersome, then it is safe to say it was, in fact, too much for a biography of a beloved pop culture icon. But who knows? Perhaps the words enchiridion, coloraturas, the French phrase le cercle lugubrieux, and karfreutagian have slipped into the common lexicon without me noticing. If not, they were odd word choices in a biography such as this. This is not the sort of book that can tolerate the interruptions that come when the reader is forced to put the book down in order to look up words and French phrases. But luckily Theroux stops showing off so egregiously around page 15. Still, not a good beginning.

The Death of the Grown-Up by Diana West

This post originally appeared on I Read Everything

Book: The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization

Author: Diane West (not linking to her – if I created a link to her and her web stats increased even by one as a result, the terrorists have won)

Type of Book: Non-fiction, sociology, politics, utter pants

Why Did I Read This Book: This would be better entitled, “Why Did I Buy This Book” for reasons that will be clear below. I bought it knowing nothing about it because it was selling cheap, remaindered, at a local bookstore. I like a good political or sociological screed, even if I know I may disagree with it, so I got it.

Availability: You want to read this mess, you find a copy yourself. Not even the lure of being an Amazon Affiliate will make me be directly responsible for putting a dime in this author’s pocket.

Comments: I said in another review a few months ago that in the last decade, I have only encountered one book so bad that I had to stop reading it. I jinxed myself, because I then found The Death of the Grown-Up and encountered so many logical fallacies and uncited assertions that by page 20 I could not go on. The horror is, despite the fact that I knew I was going to disagree with the book’s main premise – that multiculturalism is destroying America – I still wanted to read this book after purchasing it. I like reading ideas contrary to mine. But I disagreed with the premise even more when I later understood that the author uses the term “multiculturalism” to mean “cultural relativism.” I think the technical term for all the problems in this book is “hot mess.”

I read in good faith so it may seem like dirty pool that I am reviewing a book I could not finish. So be it. I’ll take my lumps, if any come. But since I read in good faith, I expect people to write in good faith. When they don’t write in good faith, creating a book to bolster their pre-existing arguments instead of researching, thinking, and at least doing the most minimal due diligence to create a coherent thought, I get to take off my gloves as a polite reviewer. This is not going to be a polite review. My spouse refers to this form of writing as “killing gnats with a machine gun.” He may be right but I’m loading my critical gun right now.

This is not a book written in good faith or even using common sense. It makes illogical assertions, exists almost solely in the realm of post hoc ergo propter hoc, and West shows a complete inability to see that the world she grew up in is not the world I grew up in, or the world you grew up in, universalizing her experiences into a bizarre mish mash of fallacies wherein everything she experienced was good and any other perception of childhood and modern culture is bad.