December 5, 2009

"In her luminous memoir..."

I thought the memo had gone out that the word "luminous" had been banned from book reviews:
Several years ago, overwhelmed by the flood of material unleashed annually by the publishing industry, I decided to establish a screening program by purchasing only books that at least one reviewer had described as ''astonishing.''

Previously, I had limited my purchases to merchandise deemed ''luminous'' or ''incandescent,'' but this meant I ended up with an awful lot of novels about bees, Provence or Vermeer. The problem with incandescent or luminous books is that they veer toward the introspective, the arcane or the wise, while I prefer books that go off like a Roman candle. When I buy a book, I don't want to come away wiser or happier or even better informed. I want to get blown right out of the water by the author's breathtaking pyrotechnics. I want to come away astonished.
That's Joe Queenan, writing in the New York Times in 2007, but now here's the New York Times with its 10 Best Books of 2009, calling a memoir "luminous." How can I trust their judgment? To be fair, they didn't call anything "incandescent" or "astonishing."

26 comments:

Maguro said...

Incandescent memoirs have been phased out in favor of compact fluorescent memoirs, for Gaia's sake.

Surenna P. said...

"These are good times for the astonishable reading public".

Palladian said...

And compact fluorescent memoirs aren't as luminous as incandescent ones.

ricpic said...

Jeannette Walls - the luminous lady - had a maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith, who was a "mustang breaker, schoolteacher, ranch wife, bootlegger, pool player, racehorse rider and bush pilot."

I've never been able to believe that such women exist. But then I grew up in a household in which it was a major achievement for my mother to get herself out of her housedress and leave the house to do the daily food shop at 3 PM.

Palladian said...

I read only numinous memoirs.

traditionalguy said...

I have heard that reading while under the influence of Ambien will make all literature into a far more intense, almost raisin like, experience of astonishing luminescense until that sought for moment of pure nirvanah when one meets with the goddess of sleep.

Wardwood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wardwood said...

Luminous lit reKindled

Paddy O. said...

I guess they didn't find Joe Queenan's own autobiography, Closing Time, astonishing.

Haven't read it yet myself. But it has been on my amazon wish list since I heard him interviewed by NPR a while back.

William said...

This is a brief description of a book that I will never read: "...her development as a poet and writer, and her struggles to navigate marriage and young motherhood even as she descends into alcoholism". Lacks luminosity.

rdkraus said...

I read that luminous book. While it was mostly interesting (not all), luminous is definitely not the word I would have used.

I thought the writing was pedestrian. That there word is not "like" luminous.

traditionalguy said...

Query; What causes an author to expose themselves to millions of readers? Is it a need for recognition? Is it a catharsis ? Is it an exercise in manipulating others? Whatever the reason, the more astonishing and incandescent the better.

John Lynch said...

So that's a glowing review?

vbspurs said...

Luminous memoirs are written by the Luminati.

Cheers,
Victoria

EDH said...

I'm not sure a "luminous" book is a good thing.

vbspurs said...

EDH, from your Youtube link, the first comment:

THROW IN THE TWILIGHT BOOKS!!!

LOL!

Bissage said...

"Luminous Animals."

Adele Mundy said...

You should stick with the cream of military science fiction and alternative history authors such as Drake, Weber, Ringo, Scalzi,Flint,Turtledove and Stirling.

They are luminous writers. Or at least the earth is luminous after an atomic attack.

David said...

These reviews are full of appealing targets straight from Book Review 101:

“Meloy’s concise yet fine-grained narratives . . . shout out with quiet restraint and calm precision.”

“Walbert’s prose, cool and intelligent . . . “

“Moore’s captivating novel . . . “

“The 15 lean, concentrated chapters in this exquisitely written novel . . . “

“Finkel’s . . . spare descriptions . . . that capture the harrowing realities of war.”

“Mordantly funny .” (Mary Karr)

“Sklenicka shrewdly deconstructs Carver’s fraught relationship with Gordon Lish . . . “

I just gave away my copy of Karr’s Liar’s Club on the ground that I will never read it again. Sounds like things did not go entirely well for her later. Maybe I will buy her book.

Someday read some of John Updike's book reviews. Proof that it can be done well.

David said...

Ripic, you and I should do a dna test, though my mom got dressed earlier so she would be ready for the cleaning lady. Good thing, too, because she had the groceries delivered.

David said...

"ricpic"

Sorry.

Wardwood said...

Loomin’ us books

(Someone had to do it)

Adele Mundy said...

I seem to remember when John Leonard reviewed Loretta Lynn's autobiography "Coal Miner's Daughter." He said it was bituminous.

Kevin Walsh said...

There's a memoir and a bio on the list; the memoirist (Mary Karr) was an alkie, and the subject (author Raymond Carver) was too.

Remind me in my next life to be throughly f!cked up and addicted -- I can write about myself and get rich, or get luminously hagiographed.

www.forgotten-ny.com

rhhardin said...

Luminous memoir has no alliteration.

Take Coleridge, with luminous mist and luminous cloud for instruction.

(interior alliteration)

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