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Joan Rivers’s self-loathing, and other new books worth a look

Detail from the cover of “I Hate Everything... Starting With Me” by Joan Rivers

I Hate Everyone …Starting With Me
By Joan Rivers, Berkeley, 242 pages, $27.50

Can we talk? Try and stop her. At 79, Joan Rivers knows the only perk of old age is the right to say whatever the hell you want. Even by her usual caustic standards, the veteran stand-up is on fire in her 11th book, in which she rants about everyone and everything. Some of the objects of her scorn are innocuous, like really old people ("Because they smell"), love at first sight ("Unless you're Stevie Wonder, there's no such thing") and maître d's ("Ushers with control issues"). Some are random personal attacks, like her digs at Stephen Hawking ("He can drool in 11 languages"), and cold weather in Winnipeg ("Like a detox centre on intake day"). And a few are downright shocking, like her repeated potshots at Anne Frank and her discomfort at meeting thalidomide victims. Rivers doesn't raise the bar of political correctness; she snaps it in two.

La Roja
How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World
By Jimmy Burns, Nation Books, 362 pages, $19.99

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Forget bullfighting. Please! Spain is now most famous for the tic-tac-toe beauty of its soccer teams, on evidence again Sunday when it takes on Italy in the finals of Euro 2012. Jimmy Burns, half-Spanish and born in Madrid, provides a fascinating look at the growing role of the game in Spain, from its English-induced first cleated steps, to its politicization under the fascist regime of Franco, to its role in the democratization of Spain. He's especially good on the rivalry between two of the greatest club teams in the world, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, a rivalry that often involves much more than the score of a soccer match.

Portnoy's Complaint and Our Doomed Pursuit of Happiness
By Bernard Avishai, Yale University Press, 230 pages, $25

Philip Roth was already well known for his novels Goodbye, Columbus (1959), Letting Go (1962) and When She Was Good (1967) when he published Portnoy's Complaint in 1969. But as popular as the earlier works were, none was reacted to like Portnoy, a satirical whirlwind blend of Jewishness, political incorrectness, anti-Freudianism and sex, especially masturbation. Many in the Jewish community, and in other communities, were outraged. Yet the Modern Library lists it as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Scholar Bernard Avishai examines Roth's masterpiece, including the reaction at the time of publication and over the succeeding 40 years, drawing on interviews with Roth as well as the novelist's writing and teaching notes, and interviews with writers, friends and the therapist who inspired the character of the psychoanalyst Dr. Spielvogel.

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