book-princess-in-pinkIn the fifth Princess Diaries book, Mia, a hilarious New Yorker who happens to be the princess of fictional Genovia, struggles with a citywide restaurant strike, turning 15, and trying to wrangle an invite to the prom. Laced with a smart-alecky feminism, the book, like totally gets the tone of precocious private-school nerds. Cabot pumps up the madcap plot with amusing pop-culture and highbrow references: Mia’s imperious, chain-smoking Grandmere has named her dog Rommel, a sly suggestion of how the dowager princess “has embraced the dark side…fully…But I guess even Darth Vader had his moments.” Picture Mia as a funnier (and more articulate) sister to Nancy Drew or the Baby Sitters Club.

Posted in book reviews, Uncategorized, Writing at July 18th, 2009.

book-how-i-became-stupidMartin Page’s hero, Antoine, thinks the great division in our world is between those who are smart and unhappy and those who are stupid and happy. Proving this premise is Antoine’s raison d’etre in Page’s attempt to write a satire of how society punishes the brilliant, How I Became Stupid.

Antoine claims to be “poor, single, and depressed” as a result of his intelligence. Yet he doesn’t seem particularly smart or sad, as his manifesto about his intelligence ruining his life resembles the rant of every 15-year-old who can’t get a date. (“[People who have] a sense of curiosity, wanting to understand the world … pay the price in loneliness.”)

And he’s not even that lonely, given that he has a group of similarly self-righteous friends. But since he is determined to be “stupid,” Antoine tries a variety of methods before ending up as a successful stockbroker, living a life with all of the necessary accessories: a giant refrigerator, a Porsche and loads of contemporary art.

After a group intervention by his friends (including readings of Descartes and Pascal and a showing of The Simpsons), Antoine comes to his senses and goes back to his original life, supposedly realizing the stupidity of what passes for happiness in society. The real irony in the book (and perhaps this is Page’s true point, though it seems unlikely) is that what passes as “smart” in Antoine’s world is just as ridiculous as what passes as “stupid” — nothing more than a bunch of empty signifiers.

Originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle

Posted in book reviews, Uncategorized, Writing at July 18th, 2009.