Review: ‘Purity’ by Jonathan Franzen

PurityPurity by Jonathan Franzen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I just finished “Purity,” and I’m not sure what to make of it.

In classic Jonathan Franzen fashion, the book is about a lot. The free flow of information. Squats in Oakland. The end of East Germany. The challenges of journalism. The sins of the parents visited on the children. Messianic personalities. Cunnilingus. Writers named Jonathan.

Then why am I left with an image of shit?

It’s funny. I’ve read “The Corrections” and “Freedom,” Franzen’s previous two novels, and though I enjoyed both of them at the time – he’s an amazing writer, capable of both propulsive storytelling and expansive digressions – I can barely remember details from either. I vaguely recall a gentrifying Minnesota neighborhood in “Freedom,” and a tangled trip to the chaotic former Communist bloc in “The Corrections.” But when it comes to lasting images, what comes to mind is a talking turd on a cruise ship, when the patriarch in “The Corrections” has a drug-fueled hallucination.

There’s shit in “Purity,” too. Sometimes it’s literal and sometimes metaphorical, but there it is: a world of shit.

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Here’s to you, #Rosetta, ‘space science at its best’

Image from ESA via Sky & Telescope.

Rosetta’s work is done.

The space probe, sent into the solar system in 2004 to observe and explore the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, crashed into it Friday, a noble (and planned) conclusion to its 12-year mission.

In 2014, Rosetta’s lander Philae set foot (so to speak) on the comet, sending back a treasure trove of information before its power went out. Meanwhile, Rosetta kept watch from a distance, transmitting images of the comet (and other celestial objects) back to Earth.

Even in its final moments, Rosetta kept working. From The Associated Press:

The controlled descent took place at about 90 centimeters per second — roughly half walking speed — giving Rosetta a chance to snap some unprecedented low-altitude images of the comet that could reveal surface features as small as an inch (2.5 centimeter).

Frankly, I’m enthralled by space exploration, whether done by machines — as it has been for too long — or manned missions. There was a time when I wished to be a passenger aboard “2001’s” Pan Am-branded shuttle. Now Pan Am is gone, 2001 is 15 years in the past and talk of manned missions beyond earth orbit remains just that — talk.

I may never be able to climb aboard a space-bound vehicle. (It would probably be too pricey, anyway.) But through probes like Rosetta, we can all get a taste of the heavens.

“Farewell Rosettta, you’ve done the job,” said mission manager Patrick Martin, according to the AP story. “That is space science at its best.”

Looking forward to much, much more.

What the hell is this shit?

Image from

The rains came yesterday and washed all the shit off the streets.

I wish. It didn’t even get it off the sidewalks.

We did get rain yesterday — finally — but my usual morning walk was also full of the usual morning dog shit. I had to constantly watch where I was walking, lest my steps take me into the path of some canine refuse.

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Thinking about Jose Fernandez

AP via Lehigh Valley Live.

Moving story by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan about Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, who died in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

Passan talked to a friend about the hours before Fernandez’s departure, and also described the shock and sadness of the day after.

Around Miami, they cried Monday, too. Jose Fernandez was this city, with his Cuban blood and his joie de vivre and his love of the water. That part hurt. The ocean that gave him freedom took his life. He spent as much time as he could on the water, with his friend Jessie Garcia, who brought Fernandez on sport-fishing expeditions all over.

Beautiful work about a wonderful player.

A review of the reviews of the debate

Image from Reuters via Wired.

The debate ended a little less than 12 hours ago. By now, everyone — from the left and the right, from the MSM to folks on Twitter — has chimed in with their thoughts.

But hey, it’s the Internet — this is posterity. So let me add mine:

  • The alcohol was excellent. Thanks to my much more talented namesake, Todd Leopold, and his wonderful Silver Tree vodka. Smooth and pure, with just the right amount of bite. Made right here in the U.S.A., too.
  • The couch was comfortable. More than 10 years old and it still does the job.
  • The audio was a little dim. Perhaps I ran into the same problems as the guy who set up Donald Trump’s microphone? I’ll have to check the wiring today.
  • Oh, and the content. I thought Trump started fairly strongly with his anti-trade stand — though he didn’t say what he’d do to bring back manufacturing jobs that left, in some cases, during the Reagan administration — but Hillary kept her cool, despite not having a single sip of water the whole time. (That’s stamina!) After that, well, though I’d never use this word, but — you know, I just can’t do it. It’s inappropriate.

Gawd. Forty-one days to go. I’ll need to get more vodka.

I will be watching the debate with a stiff drink and through splayed fingers

(Update, 10:45 p.m.: I feel better now that the debate is over, and the alcohol definitely took the edge off. Good combination!)

(Update, 3:01 p.m.: Andy Borowitz is way ahead of me.)

Tonight is the first presidential debate. I will probably watch at least some of it, because it feels like a civic responsibility — after all, part of voting is to be informed, and this will be one of just three opportunities to see Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump go one-on-one, allegedly debating the issues.

But, let’s face it, it’s really just a big television show — one that’s hard to win, but easy to lose.

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Sunday read: Turn off your phone, even if you’re in the middle of reading this

Image from Futurecom.

Though I’m old enough to remember a time before the Internet, I have spent the majority of my career in what some people still call the “digital space.” I’ve seen it go from dial-up modems to broadband and wi-fi. I’ve seen phones change from bulky Motorolas to Nokia candy bars to the iPhone 7.

And I’ve seen us get lost in it all.

Andrew Sullivan has, too. In fact, he willingly gave himself up to the Digital Age, starting one of the first major blogs, turning it into a profitable concern and staying determinedly plugged in, even when his health suffered and his mind sought to decompress.

He finally went on a retreat to recover. Among the first things he gave up was his phone.

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My favorite albums: ‘Run Devil Run’

Image from Capitol Records.

(Update, 9/24 2:46 p.m.: My friend John Lorinc did this piece for WABE radio on the drugstore — and product — that helped inspire the album:)

Linda McCartney died in 1998. She and Paul McCartney had been married for 29 years. By all accounts, it had been a happy marriage.

Paul was bereft. To ease his soul, he decided to get back to his roots with an album of old rock ‘n’ roll covers. He rounded up a bunch of musician pals — David Gilmour, Pete Wingfield, Dave Mattacks among them — and recorded “Run Devil Run” in two months.

It may be the best of his post-“Tug of War” albums.

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A long night in Charlotte

This comes from a friend of a friend. Really well said.

Tommy Tomlinson

This shouldn’t need to be said but let’s say it. There were honorable protestors in the Charlotte streets last night, and there were people who came to break and burn. It’s possible, even likely, that some changed sides during the night. They showed up to stand for peace but anger overwhelmed them. Or they showed up to riot and their hearts pushed them a different way. Our lives are complicated.

This shouldn’t need to be said but let’s say it. There are honorable and skilled police all over this country, and there are police not worthy of the badge. It’s possible, even likely, that some change sides under pressure. They practice calm reason but pull the trigger too soon. Or they itch to take down a suspect and decide, in the moment, to leave the gun in the holster. Our lives are complicated.

It’s 1 o’clock Thursday morning and the…

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