Wednesday, November 03, 2010

How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior by Laura Kipnis (2010)

My latest LibraryThing Early Reviewers adventure was How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior by Laura Kipnis (2010). That's right: non-fiction! It doesn't happen all that often, but I do enjoy the occasional non-fiction read.

I really liked the premise of this book, which seeks to explore the nature of scandal in modern society: why we love to get on our high horses when a scandal comes out, how we can't get enough details on a high-profile scandal (the juicier the better), and why on earth these people do what they do when it is so obvious (in retrospect) that they would get caught and that we would heap scorn upon them.

Kipnis uses four case-studies in making her argument: Lisa Nowak (the be-diapered astronaut), Sol Wachtler (the respected New York judge who bizarrely blackmailed his socialite mistress), Linda Tripp (Monica Lewinsky's "friend" who taped their phone calls in order to expose Clinton), and James Frey (the author of A Million Little Pieces, the memoir that pissed Oprah off when it ended up being more of a novel).

The interest I had in re-reading (and in the case of Wachtler, reading for the first time) the details of these scandals pretty much proves Kipnis's point about the appeal of a downfall. In each case she was also able to broaden the focus and make connections between the individual media flurry and the larger social and cultural implications of our reactions to these events.

Where Kipnis lost me was in her somewhat rambling and dashed-off seeming introduction and conclusion, which lack the structure and focus of her chapters and include many irritating (to me) writing quirks. Actually, what irritated me about them was that they sounded like a blog post, which is an admittedly weird objection from a woman who writes on a blog, but I think books take a different writing style. [Plus no one is paying me for this, so you can suck it if it seems dashed off.]

Overall this is a somewhat slight but enjoyable look at contemporary culture that fairly judges its subjects and makes some intelligent comments on society. Totally worth a casual read.

1 comment:

Joolie said...

I don't think that's a weird objection at all. It's a nice distinction to make, and I wish more writers did.