American Rococo: Essays On the Edge – Isham Cook

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Isham Cook advises teens to get rid of their smartphones. He equates Airbnb with an upgraded way of couch surfing. He’s obsessed with big breasts and younger Chinese women. By the way, he currently lives in China.

He’s an atheist, but has problems with them as a group. After all, they’re fervent monogamists. Let’s not get into monogamy; that’s a sore subject with him.

All of these opinions and a lot more  comprise American Rococo: Essays On the Edge , a collection of thirteen essays that take a look at  history as well as current culture. Cook starts out strong in his first one, “American Talisman”, as he criticizes our “perverted and schizophrenic” society that sexualizes our children and then punishes them for following our leads. I got bored with the next few, but I’m glad I kept with it. In fact, even if I wasn’t particularly interested in a particular essay, I highly anticipated the next one.

From the Marquis de Sade to Shakespeare and syphilis, there’s a lot to enjoy whether you agree or disagree with his point of view. I especially liked his essays on travel, like “From Van Gough to the Camino de Santiago: Symbolic Travel and the Modern Pilgrim”. What is symbolic travel versus pragmatic travel? Is the journey more important than the destination? How about those who’s travel just consists of  dissecting their own city streets, like nineteenth century poet Charles Baudelaire?

Cook defends the music of classical composer Philip Glass. He introduces us to composer Tan Dunn. Can a non-musical woman be happy with a composer? Why did French artists in the nineteenth and the turn of the twentieth centuries idolize prostitutes? He writes about the history of the English language.

In addition to including bites of humor, many of his topics are provocative. In addition to his issues with monogamy, which he explores in depth, he’s come up with a weird way of determining compatibility with a partner. He initially states that jealousy is stupid, but later on in “Advanced Love” suggests that it can add to a marriage. I found his thoughts on the personal power of indifference and detachment to be particularly interesting.

Another plus are the “Further reading” sections at the end of each essay. If there’s something you just didn’t get enough of, you can delve into it further.

I recommend American Rococo: Essays On the Edge for those who are willing to step outside their comfort zones. I think there’s something here for everyone.

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