Essay Collection Reviews, September 1, 2012

Mendelsohn, Daniel. Waiting for the Barbarians: Essays from the Classics to Pop Culture. NYRB. Oct. 2012. c.432p. ISBN 9781590176078. $24.95. LIT

This collection of 24 essays originally published separately between 1999 and 2011 links classic writings to examples of contemporary popular culture like the Spider-Man musical, the TV series Mad Men, and Wikipedia, which Mendelsohn (contributing editor, Travel & Leisure; The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million) compares to theIliad : “it is the thing as a whole that matters, not only the kernel of text someone first put up.” In “Why She Fell,” Mendelsohn associates the Broadway Spider-Man “fiasco” to Greek drama by describing the crucial elements: “great talent, tremendous artistic ambition, and then humiliation.” Mendelsohn writes that Mad Men allows Baby-Boomer viewers to indulge in a fantasy of what their parents may have been like before they had children. Finally, in “Unsinkable (Why We Can’t Let Go of the Titanic),” he recalls a gift he received at age 12: membership in the Titanic Enthusiasts of America (now the Titanic Historical Society). With a gracious nod to public libraries and to reading, Mendelsohn explains how he read all the Titanic books owned by the public library and spent his meager allowance to buy others. VERDICT Mendelsohn is a deep thinker with insightful charm. All fans of intelligent thought on popular culture will appreciate his commentary.—Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL

Rothbart, Davy. My Heart Is an Idiot: Essays. Farrar. Sept. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780374280840. $26. LIT

Rothbart claims he falls in love easily, whether with a pretty woman at the airport or one who randomly calls his hotel room, and that is why his “heart is an idiot.” Rothbart (contributor, NPR’s This American Life; Found: The Best Lost, Tossed, and Forgotten Items from Around the World) is addicted to new experiences, and these 16 original essays (described on the copyright page as forming a “memoir” of “stories…grounded in truth”) document his chance encounters. In “Human Snowball,” Rothbart recounts a trip to Buffalo to meet a girlfriend and the diverse group of companions he gathers along the way, including Chinese restaurant owners and a 110-year-old man. In other pieces he details encounters with people on a bus ride to New York City after the 9/11 attacks, a family he meets when he runs out of gas in the desert, and his friendship with Byron Case, a man jailed for murder. VERDICT Rothbart has a good heart. The descriptions of his sexual encounters are graphic, but these essays show a man full of life who does not hesitate to say hello to a stranger. —Joyce Sparrow, Kenneth City, FL