The Shortcomings of Shortcomings

Or at least its readers. A lot of articles about contemporary American literature note the growth industry in assimilation narratives—led by Jhumpa Lahiri, Junot Diaz, and Ha Jin, to pick just three of the more obvious examples. But to hear Kenny Tanemura tell it in a piece for AsianWeek, the lessons of those stories don’t easily penetrate the minds of college students. Tanemura, who teaches composition at Purdue University, had the excellent idea of teaching Adrian Tomine‘s Shortcomings to his class. But:

One was confused and dismayed by the Asian lesbian character, and others were confused about the main character’s sway toward assimilation and about the forces that impacted this flow. Stripped of any understanding or curiosity about the intersection of race and desire in relationships, my students could only see Tomine’s characters out of context…. My students considered Ben Tanaka a one-dimensional character—merely a man who whines for no reason except to unnecessarily annoy his girlfriend. At best, a few perceptive students might say things like, “It seems like he’s ashamed of his culture and wants to be more accepted.”

Roundup: You May Have the Falcon…

Stephanie Salter tries to get her head around Dashiell Hammett‘s The Maltese Falcon. My old place in San Francisco was just a couple of blocks from the apartment where Hammett wrote that novel; back in 2001 I wrote a story about the guy who lived (lives?) there.

Nicholson Baker writing “Wikipedia is just an incredible thing” is like Rick James saying “Cocaine is a hell of a drug”–the dude’s found the thing that’s going to reshape his life for years, for better or for worse. As he points out: “All big Internet successes—e-mail, AOL chat, Facebook, Gawker, Second Life, YouTube, Daily Kos, World of Warcraft—have a more or less addictive component—they hook you because they are solitary ways to be social: you keep checking in, peeking in, as you would to some noisy party going on downstairs in a house while you’re trying to sleep.”

A couple of DoSP notes. I have a brief review of Adrian Tomine‘s Shortcomings in Washington City Paper; Tomine is at Politics and Prose on Wednesday. My review of Richard Price‘s excellent new novel, Lush Life, is in today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune. At the National Book Critics Circle blog, Critical Mass, I’ve been gathering up various materials related to Price’s Clockers; an extended version of the interview with Price that first appeared on City Paper’s Web site is running in three parts. Parts of that interview dedicated specifically to Lush Life are now up at the Chicago Sun-Times Web site. Many thanks to NBCC president John Freeman for proposing the idea, and to Price for giving up so much of his time to weather a fusillade of questions about something he did three books ago.