Saturday, January 31, 2009

Being Chuck Klosterman

My affinity (okay, Highsmithian obsession) for Chuck Klosterman has been documented earlier on this blog, so I went dwell on that again. And I know (or at least I believe, I'm too lazy to find the link) I listed this collection in my ten recommended books post, so its not like this was all new. But after enjoying IV so much, I decided to back up and reimmerse myself in the only other Klosterman lying around my apartment (besides the heavily-drugged-and-bound-in-a-large-sack-Audition-style author himself), Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs.

I love pop culture, and as an extension, I really enjoy well written pop culture criticism. It's why I spend so much time on the AV Club website (I actually confessed to two AV club writers I met the other day that I have trouble watching television programs that the website doesn't blog about, because I miss the outlet to confirm my opinions or the outrage disagreeing causes). And few, if any, do it better than Klosterman. While I think I enjoyed IV more, overall (partly because I found the interviews more interesting than the simply crticism pieces...he does Billy Joel in both of them, and comes to similar conclusions, but the essay in IV has the benefit of the fact that Klosterman discusses his conclusions about Billy Joel will never be "cool" with Billy Joel himself. SDandCP also contains the only Klosterman piece I've found that I actively disagree with, the one in which he argues against the idea and worthwhileness of soccer both as a passtime and a spectator sport. But his pieces on why our generation will forever be unsatisfied in relationships (because we watched too many John Cusack movies) and why Pamela Anderson is the new Marilyn Monroe (and what that says about America) are priceless, and I found another thing we have in common (a bizarre fascination with serial killers). And, if nothing else, Klosterman (a very white dude from middle america who now lives in NYC and makes money writing about popular things) can only be a great companion piece to Stuff White People Like.*

*While I have not checked SWPL out in book form, I have been a big fan of the blog for a while, and I am fairly confident that, by measure of both blog and book, I am the whitest contributor to this blog. But I'm willing to fight that one out.

Dook dook dook!

Hello dear friends.  It's been ages.  Let's rock this shit.

Maakies is a crazy-ass weekly comic strip that chronicles the adventures of Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby, a sort of refined monkey-fellow.  They get blotto, kill things, and hurt themselves.  Sounds like me on New Years.  Yeergh.

This book is compendium of this fantastically freaky shit.

I work with children all day long.  They make me laugh and are adorable.  Then I go home and read Maakies and my mind twists in devilish ways.  Like what if a baby pooped out a treasure map that leads to a vast reserve of bonded bourbon?  Or what if that stuffed animal was alive and slowly digesting a beautiful mermaid deep within its stomach.  I can hear her screams now...thanks to Maakies.

I have to say I haven't been myself these past few months.  It's nice to know that when shit gets weird and sad, Maakies will undoubtedly be weirder and sadder and sillier.  Here's to drunken birds and sailing ships!!!

Dook dook dook 

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Stuff White People Like


I'm so predictable! How did this happen? When did this happen? 

According to this book, I fall nicely into the 70% white category. Out of the 150 White Items in this book, I disliked 37 of them. The rest I either already like, or after reading their captions, immediately decided that I need to like them. Because I'm white. 

All The White Things That I Like:
Film Festivals, Assists, Farmer's Markets, Organic Food, Diversity, Barack Obama, Wes Anderson Movies, Asian Girls, Nonprofit Organizations, Tea, Having Black Friends (Pete Minta, where did you go??), Gifted Children, International Travel, Writer's Workshops, Microbreweries, Wine, Manhattan, 80's Night, Marijuana, Architecture, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart/The Colbert Report, Brunch, Renovations, Arrested Development, Netflix, Apple Products, Indie Music, Sushi, Plays, Public Radio, The Sunday New York Times, Liberal Arts Degrees, Whole Foods, Vintage, Irony, Sarah Silverman, Dogs, Kitchen Gadgets, Apologies, Lawyers, Documentaries, Natural Medicine, Toyota Prius, Bicycles, Expensive Sandwiches, Recycling, Coed Sports, Michel Gondry, Mos Def, Gentrification (is that so terrible?), Oscar Parties, Bottles of Water, Musical Comedy, Modern Furniture, The Idea of Soccer (because it totally sucks to watch on TV), Graduate School, Bad Memories of High School, T-shirts, Shorts, Outdoor Performance Clothes, Having Gay Friends, Dinner Parties, San Francisco, Music Piracy, New Balance Shoes, Beards, Red Hair, Non-Motorized Boating, Scarves, Self-Deprecating Humor, Integrity, The Criterion collection, High School English Teachers, Free Health Care, The New Yorker, Subtitles, Premium Juice, Plaid, Platonic Friendships, Reusable Shopping Bags, Acoustic Covers, Dave Chappelle, Nintendo Wii, Conspiracies, The Simpsons, Avoiding Confrontation, Following Their Dreams, Not Having Cash, Singer-Songwriters, Eating Outside, Books, Music Festivals, Glasses, McSweeney's, Hardwood Floors, Bakeries, Modern Art Museums, Public Transportation That Is Not a Bus, Dive Bars, Self-Importance, and Rock Climbing.

All The White Things That I Intend To Like Very Soon:
Coffee (it looks awesome and delicious, and I know that one day I'll most likely buckle under pressure), Yoga, David Sedaris, Wrigley Field, Living By The Water (sounds quite pleasant), Japan (never been, but plan on it!), Study Abroad (I guess I missed the boat on this one, but it seems like an incredible white journey on which to embark), The Wire, Having Children In Their Late Thirties (sounds like sound advice), Cleanses (the stomach kind), Portland, Oregon, and Therapy.

I guess I should be embarrassed about all of this, how my life can be so easily condensed into predictable list form. But then again, what about all of you? Don't you also feel a certain affinity towards these things? Netflix and dogs and being an expert on different kinds of cheese. Because, don't you see? WE are all white. Julie and Reggie and Ezekiel and Patrick and Joshua and Grant. And why can't we whites get together and celebrate all the wonderful things that we like? We're part of a giant club! There are millions of members! Lots of common interests! Don't you see?! WE ALL WIN!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ripping Yarns

Years ago, in one of my every-few-years sprees of reading and re-reading Roald Dahl, I had the good luck to read his autobiography Boy, focused on his childhood growing up in the UK in the early years of the 20th century. It was, as I remember, a pretty keen and incisive take on the peculiar and rarefied world of boarding school, and it wasn't hard to find in it the roots of Dahl's fascination with childhood -- both its energetic possibilities and the limitless cruelty of children.

Going Solo picks up roughly where Boy leaves off, employing the same wide-eyed wonder as Dahl sets forth on a voyage to work for the Shell company in colonial Africa and, eventually, enlists as a fighter pilot when World War II breaks out. It's an interesting document of its time, the curiosities of which do not escape Dahl's attention. Throughout, he's overwhelmed by native culture, throwing himself into learning Swahili (and teaching his servants English, very much a taboo at the time, given the British concern about native uprisings) and fascinated by the rituals and customs of distant lands. It's classic ripping-yarns stuff, the like of which the British seem to particularly excel at, and falls prey to a certain limited condescention -- nothing in the book quite so much as Dahl's account of his house servant's bloody adventure when he hears that war has broken out against the Germans, with Dahl called away to round up the Germans in-country. There's a bemused superiority to the account of Mdisho's decapitation of a cruel neighbor German that bespeaks a certain superiority on Dahl's part. But by and large, these passages are more remarkable for Dahl's clear joy for the strangeness of the world in which he's found himself, untempered by a desire to control or correct it, eagerly dashing off whenever he gets the chance to lose himself in the unfamiliar and to escape attempts at bringing Brittain to all its empire controls.

The shift into WWII brings with it an incredibly British quality in its weary, grim clear-eyed view of the pointlessness and waste of war. Dahl is routinely stunned by the insanities of British command priorities (the bulk of the WWII fighting concerns the attempt to defend all of Brittain's forces in Greece with less than a dozen fighter pilots), occasionally takes stock at the vicious, steep bloodshed that cuts down nearly all the pilots he meets along the way, and is faced with a constant stream of inconceivable orders that follow no rational course, and have no perceivable outcome. There are no illusions here about the evils of Hitler (and there's one superb encounter Dahl has with a Jewish refugee in what will soon become Israel, in which Dahl is the butt of his own writing, ignorant at the time about the events of the Holocaust and totally clueless as to the roots of the Zionist movement) but that doesn't mean there's no gravity or weight to the horrible, gratuitous and ultimately bewildering losses sustained in the war.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

14. Sammy

It was a horrible, stinky, rainy day. Some rainy days are fun and exciting, but not this one. This one stunk. All the children were wet and wore smelly raincoats. The whole room smelled awful. 
"Ooooh, it stinks in here," said Maurecia.
Everybody laughed. But she was right.
There was one good thing, however. There was a new boy in class. New kids are always fun. Except no one could even tell what the new boy looked like. He was completely covered by his raincoat.
"Class," said Mrs. Jewls. "I'd like you all to meet Sammy. Let us show him what a nice class we can be."
Leslie walked up and smiled at Sammy. But her smile quickly turned into a frown. "You smell terrible," she said.
"Leslie!" exclaimed Mrs. Jewls. "That's no way to greet a new member of our class." Mrs. Jewls wrote Leslie's name on the blackboard under the word DISCIPLINE.
"But he does, Mrs. Jewls," said Leslie. "He smells awful."
"You're ugly," Sammy replied.
"Now, Sammy, that's no way to talk," said Mrs. Jewls. "Leslie's a very pretty girl."
"She's ugly," said Sammy.
Allison spoke up. "Well, you smell terrible and are probably even uglier. But nobody can see you because you are hiding under that smelly old raincoat."
"That will be enough of that," said Mrs. Jewls. "Now, Sammy, why don't you take off your coat and hang it in the closet? Let us all see how nice you look."
"I don't want to, you old windbag," said Sammy.
"That's because he's so ugly," said Leslie.
"I'm sure he's quite handsome," said Mrs. Jewls. "He's just shy. Here, let me help you." Mrs. Jewls took off Sammy's coat for him. But underneath it was still another raincoat, even dirtier and smellier than the first one. 
They still couldn't see his face.
"Ooooh, now he smells even worse," said Maurecia.
"You don't exactly smell like a rose, either," Sammy replied.
Mrs. Jewls took off his second raincoat, but there was still another one under that. And the smell became so bad that Mrs. Jewls had to run and stick her head out the window to get some fresh air. 
"You're all a bunch of pigs!" Sammy screeched. "Dirty, rotten pigs!"
The smell was overpowering. Sammy just stood there, hidden under his raincoats.
Mrs. Jewls wrote Sammy's name under the word DISCIPLINE.
"Send him home on the kindergarten bus," said Joy.
"Not with me," said Todd.
Mrs. Jewls held her nose, walked up to Sammy, and removed his raincoat. She threw it out the window. But he had on still another one.
Sammy hissed. "Hey, old windbag, watch where you throw my good clothes!"
Mrs. Jewls put a check next to Sammy's name on the blackboard. Then she took off another raincoat and threw it out the window. The smell got worse, for he had on still another one.
Sammy began to laugh. His horrible laugh was even worse than his horrible voice.
When Sammy first came into the room, he was four feet tall. But after Mrs. Jewls removed six of his raincoats, he was only three feet tall. And there were still more raincoats to go.
Mrs. Jewls circled his name and removed another coat. She threw it out the window. Then she put a triangle around the circle and threw another one of his coats outside. She kept doing this until Sammy was only one-and-a-half feet high. With every coat she took off, Sammy's laugh got louder and the smell got worse.
Some of the children held their ears. Others could hold only one ear because they were holding their nose with the other hand. It was hard to say which was worse, the laugh or the smell.
Sammy stopped laughing and said, "Hey, old windbag, if you take off one more of my coats and throw it out the window, I'll bite your head off."
"They smell too bad for me to allow them in my classroom," said Mrs. Jewls. "You can pick them up when you leave."
"They smell better than you do, Pighead!" Sammy shouted.
Mrs. Jewls didn't stop. She took off another one of his coats, then another, and another. Sammy was only four inches tall, three inches tall, two inches tall. At last she removed the final coat.
All that was there was a dead rat.
"Well, I don't allow dead rats in my classroom," said Mrs. Jewls. She picked it up by the tail, put it in a plastic bag, and threw it away.
Mrs. Jewls didn't allow dead rats in her class. Todd once brought in a dead rat for show-and-tell, and Mrs. Jewls made him throw that one away, too.
"I'm glad Sammy isn't allowed in our classroom," said Rondi. "I didn't like him very much."
"Yes," said Mrs. Jewls, "we caught another one."
Dead rats were always trying to sneak into Mrs. Jewls's class. That was the third one she'd caught since September.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich

If you are a college basketball fan, then you've heard of Pistol Pete. Playing in the 60's with no shot clock, no 3 point line, no freshman eligibility, and a slow down style of play, his stats have never, and probably will never, be equaled.

Oh yeah, he was born with only half the normal amount of coronary arteries, which usually results in complete inactivity and death by age 20. It did kill him when he was 41, however.

The Sporting News College Player of the Year (1970)
Naismith Award Winner (1970)
The Sporting News All-America First Team (1968, 1969, 1970)
Three-time AP and UPI First-Team All-America (1968, 1969, 1970)
Holds NCAA career record for most points (3,667, 44.2 ppg, three-year career) in 83 games
Holds NCAA career record for highest points per game average (44.2 ppg)
Holds NCAA record for most field goals made (1,387) and attempted (3,166)
Holds NCAA record for most free throws made (893) and attempted (1,152)
Holds NCAA record for most games scoring at least 50 points (28)
Holds NCAA single-season record for most points (1,381) and highest per game average (44.5 ppg) in 1970
Ranks 1st, 4th and 5th for most points in a single season in NCAA history, averaging 44.5 points in 1970, 44.2 points in 1969 and 43.8 points in 1968.
Holds NCAA single-season record for most field goals made (522) and attempted (1,168) in 1970
Holds NCAA single-season record for most games scoring at least 50 points (10) in 1970
Holds NCAA single-game record for most free throws made (30 of 31) against Oregon State on Dec. 22, 1969
Led the NCAA Division I in scoring with 43.8 ppg (1968); 44.2 (1969) and 44.5 ppg (1970)
The 44.5 ppg average ranks best in NCAA history; 44.2 ppg (fourth); 43.8 ppg (fifth)
Averaged 43.6 ppg on the LSU freshman team (1967)
Scored a career-high 69 points vs. Alabama (Feb. 7, 1970); 66 vs. Tulane (Feb. 10, 1969); 64 vs. Kentucky (Feb. 21, 1970); 61 vs. Vanderbilt (Dec. 11, 1969);
Holds LSU records for most field goals in a game (26) against Vanderbilt on Jan. 29, 1969 and attempted (57) against Vanderbilt
All-Southeastern Conference (1968, 1969, 1970)
Led LSU to the NIT Final Four in 1970, its first post-season appearance in 16 years
In 1988, Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer signed legislation changing the official name of LSU's home court to the Maravich Assembly Center
In 1970, Maravich led LSU to a 20-8 record and a third place finish in the NIT
All-Time NCAA Career Scoring Leader with 3,667 points, an average of 44.2 points for 83 games.


say NO to the suburbs!

My mom (who is now a secret reader of this blog) made me promise that I would read Revolutionary Road before seeing the movie. And so I did. If you're out there, mother, hello! Now go make me egg salad. 

This book is incredible. Reading it is comparable to the experience of a tightly clenched fist full of quarters repeatedly punching you in the same meaty part of your arm for hours and hours. First, it's not so bad, you can take the pain. Whatever. Soon it will stop, and you'll be able to tend to the chores of the day. Raking, washing, the cleansing of the gutter. But then it doesn't stop, the pain, that is, and you start to get all tender and sore, and your skin starts melting into a purple blackish mess of a bruise, and then your eyes start watering, and your contacts dislodge themselves so you can't see what's actually happening, and the pain gets louder, and all you want to do is lie down on the couch and eat your Ham & Cheese hot-pocket, but the fist persists, until finally, your arm just kind of falls off at the point of entry, and you see that your blood really is warm, but it's staining the freshly cleaned carpet, and will obviously have to be replaced, except you ran out of gas six days ago, and IKEA is DEFINITELY not in walking distance. So. Reading Revolutionary Road was kind of like that. In the best way possible.

It's about the suburbs, in the 50's, and the terribly terribly unhappy people that live there. Nothing monumentally exciting happens in this book. No giant plot twists. No rapist aliens. To some, that would seem a disappointment. But, I loved it. The way in which it's written is so good, full of these amazingly tight, claustrophobic sentences and paragraphs. It's told mainly through the point of view of Leo DiCaprio's character, but every once in a while, Richard Yates seamlessly jumps into the mind of the wife, or the children, or the real estate agent, which turns out to be a very cool method of storytelling. It was just an incredibly solid, beautifully written book, and every character, detail, and emotion in it seems uncomfortably real. 

I'm excited to see the movie, but I don't expect it to come even close to the brilliance that's contained in the novel. But we shall see.

Is my egg salad ready now?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Step 1: Put the lime in the coconut. Step 2: drink it all up. Step 3: repeat ad infinitum.

Surprisingly unlike the diary of Anne Frank, "The Rum Diary" is the story of journalist Paul Kemp's short spell as a journalist at the only English-speaking newspaper in 1950s Puerto-Rico. There is whole lot of drinking. Probably more than is healthy if you want my opinion, which is odd because I've never known Hunter S. Thompson to be anything other than a sober, christian soul.
The only other book I've read by Thompson is Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and, I gotta say, I like this one considerably more for several reasons:
1. I have never ingested, nor do I ever plan on ingesting, copious amounts of mescaline, cocaine, and human adrenaline, therefore, I find Fear and Loathing a little difficult to relate to. Granted, I also don't think I've ever had quite as much to drink as many of the characters in the book, but still...
2. This is one of Thompson's first books, written around his twenties, and it feels like he still has something to prove in his writing, which is pretty damn fantastic, by the way.

I ended up really liking The Rum Diary. It was a quick read and had very dynamic characters that were fun to imagine myself interacting with. I also enjoyed the theme that ran throughout the book of feeling trapped somewhere but also not being able to summon the will to leave... kind of finally gave me the energy and willpower to do my laundry, which I'll be doing... tomorrow.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

All I Ever Needed Was the Music

Before this is all over, I sort of hope to read a book that I hate, so that I'll have something else to write about in this space. Ann Patchett's Bel Canto is certainly not that book.

Simply put, and without giving too much away, Bel Canto begins with the birthday party of Mr. Hosokawa, a rich and renowned Japanese business man who is enticed to have his birthday party at the home of the Vice-President of an unnamed, developing South American country. The enticement is that the party's entertainment will be famed American opera star Roxanne Coss. Hosokawa is an opera aficionado, and Coss is his favorite singer. The party and performance are splendid, until they are interupted by a terrorist group who invades the house looking for the President (who is not in attendence) and procedes to hold the entire party hostage in the house. Most of the book follows both hostages and captors as they adapt to what seems to be a ridiculously long time of living together in the house.

The plot, while intriguing, is almost an afterthought to the themes of the book and the descriptions of those themes: love, languages, and, most importantly, the power of music. While the reader obviously cannot hear Roxanne Coss sing, the descriptions of her voice and presence are astounding in and of themselves, and it is clear that in the reality of the novel her voice is an almost otherworldly gift. One of many examples, taken at random, might read like this:

"All of the love and the longing a body can contain was spun into not more than two and a half minutes of song, and when she came to the highest notes it seemed that all they had been given in their lives and all they had lost came together and made a weight that was almost impossible to hear. When she was finished, the people around her stood in stunned and shivering silence."

This book is about the power of love to bridge the barriers of language and culture and shows two people who cannot speak to each other in love, and two whose love is solidified while learning how to communicate with each other, and always, music is shown to be able to do much the same thing. That it begins or ends with tragedy is almost an afterthought, the music and the experience is what remains. This is a truly beautiful book.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Guess What?

I decided maybe I'd treat this one as a real book instead of posting Mariah Carey lyrics. Fires of Heaven is the fifth book in the WoT series, and I feel like this is a good one to pick the reviews back up on because pretty much all the groundwork for what is to come in the next (at least) 6 books has been laid, and it also is here (and this is apparent on the third read more than the first, certainly) that while totally engrossing and engaging and great for what it is, Robert Jordan just struggles as a writer sometimes.

Its hard to talk plot w.o giving anything away, and though I don't expect anyone who posts or reads this will ever pick these books up, it still doesn't seem fair to give anything away just in case, say, you are one day snowed in in a log cabin in Wisconsin for two weeks with nothing but a flashlight and the Complete Works of Robert Jordan (I assume you would try to tackle WoT before his Conan: The Barbarian novels, but maybe thats just me). But plot aside, this is the book where the narrative starts to stretche a bit too far...the book clocks in at a heft 960+ pages, and yet not one chapter is devoted to one of the three (ostensibly) main characters. Devoted chapters are important, as Jordan will tell chapters from various characters PoV, and advance their part of the story as such. By this time the major characters are spread out all over the made-up globe, and he devotes more than a few chapters to minor characters as well. Going 962 pages without one chapter about Perrin or Edmond's Field is too much. Jordan also begins to display what I can only describe as a rather misogynistic streak, as every chapter devoted to Nynaeve is filled with her falsely blaming men for things, being incredibly un-self aware, and more shrewish behavior. And this is from a character we're supposed to respect and like, even though Jordan doesn't seem to like her very much himself. Also, its a fantasy novel.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I am sick and tired of writing about Anthony Bourdain

OK, OK, but this is the last one, I promise. After hunting at a string of libraries, I finally found a copy of Bourdain's breakthrough memoir at a Berkeley used bookstore for about $5, and figured I might as well polish off his foodie trilogy in one fell swoop. I'm immeasurably glad I did.

This is distinct from his other two in its immediacy, its urgency, and its cohesiveness. Where A Cook's Tour feels a bit in thrall to its companion TV program (and thus, a little paint-by-numbers, for all that it's remarkably well-done) and where The Nasty Bits takes a scattershot approach to compiling an anthology of writing, Kitchen Confidential is on two missions: letting you know how Anthony Bourdain turned around a trainwreck-on-fire life to become a relatively respectable chef, and letting you know how the restaurant world operates.

It's straightforward, no-bullshit writing, pretty typical for Bourdain, but there's a drive and focus to this that his other books lack. It's incredibly personal and lean, and only after Bourdain has walked us through his several levels of introduction to food does he back up and start to expand his universe by detailing his colleagues and the mechanics of running terrible, decent, and (eventually) high-end restaurants. While he takes a brief detour near the end to look at how a classier, serene kitchen works (which he takes in with a good dose of humility and astonishment), the bulk of this is from the heart, from experience, and isn't afraid to inform us that Bourdain will, if you order a steak well-done, get the worst cut of meat out of his kitchen by putting it on your plate.

It's easy to see why this exploded his career and made him a personality (some of the chapters on The Business, particularly an early one on "things you should know when you go to a restaurant" that unfolds the incessantly-repeated "don't order fish on a Monday" mantra, feel like insertions at the publisher's request) but the book doesn't fall prey to a tell-all expose syndrome at the expense of its author's personality, or at the expense of an obvious affection for the holy grail of Food (or Bourdain's affection for his coworkers and friends accumulated and cast off over the years).

And with that, I'm done writing about Anthony God Dammit Bourdain. Next up: a book about wrenches? Maybe a nice, palate-cleansing Curious George graphic novel? A credit card statement? THE WORLD IS AN OYSTER.

Returning to the Well of Bourdain

The Nasty Bits, my second in the Bourdain triptych -- which I'm handling in a mangled middle-last-first order -- is an odd hodgepodge of material, but its scattershot approach seems to me to be the reason it works so effectively. Where A Cook's Tour consists of a fairly well-organized, defined mission (eat around the world, write about it), The Nasty Bits reflects a bit of its author's stylistic restlessness and unwillingness to stick to a Rachel-Ray-on-tour routine. It's for the best. The pieces, culled largely from previously-published articles and op-eds, sprawl from the predictable culinary travelogues to meditations on the disappointing end to colorful mobsterism in New York to reflections on the brutal realities of addiction to rants about the commercialization of the food industry (including an incisive take on Rocco DiSpirito's massive swan dive from boy genius to sellout hack) to, in its closing pages, fiction.

The travelogues, frankly, get old. There's some amusing stuff here -- a whirlwind tour through Vegas which studiously apes Fear and Loathing, down to appropriating fellow foodie author Michael Ruhlman as Bourdain's Dr. Gonzo -- but after a bit of an overload of this stuff, it just gets hard to keep getting into repetitive-if-vivid scenes of exotic street-food markets. Bourdain's much more fun when he's going off the beaten track, giving us a hint of the life he's lived outside of the kitchen (with a clear view of the underworld in New York's 70s, and some very interesting revelations about chefs' musical inspirations -- who else knew that Rick Tramonto dug contemporary Christian pop when he's out of the kitchen?) and crafting a shockingly upbeat, charming Christmas fable at the story's close. It's set in a kitchen (well, give the guy a break, he's writing what he knows) and suffers only from a bit of transparency -- we're only about 75 pages away from hearing about Rocco DiSpirito, and here's his exact doppelganger. Still, it seems pretty churlish to complain about Bourdain drawing from real life when he's gone out of his way to close this book with a warm, fairy-tale ending that even has a soft place in its heart for lousy, food-deserting sellouts like Rocco.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I'm Going Through Puberty, and There Are Aliens Everywhere!

Brett Schneider recently took me on a date to the Chicago Public Library. He wanted to track down the leather bound, gold-tipped manual called "The Game," the book that teaches you how to pick up women in bars and clubs. He wants a girlfriend. And he deserves one. He's a magician, for goodness sake! Anyway, it was during this very same library date that I stumbled across my own gem of a novel. A novel about puberty and aliens. Brett thought the cover looked cool. So I read it. And now I blame Brett for everything. 

Girl in Landscape is about a 13-year-old girl who's mother dies in a post-apocalyptic Brooklyn. So, as is the normal, healthy grieving process of any family who's experienced a loss, the rest of the gang decides to pack up, get in a rocket ship and move to a new planet. 

On this new planet, there are aliens and tea potatoes and ice potatoes and green potatoes and tiny invisible deer that scamper around the rocks and ruined arches. There are lesbians, and strange murders, fires, more aliens, blah blah blah.

While exploring this strange new landscape, the girl starts undergoing some strange physical changes of her own. Her breasts are getting bigger. She kisses a boy. Then she turns into a tiny invisible deer! And then she sees the resident painter doing naughty things with an alien! And then she turns back. And then she brushes knees with the resident creepy man, and she feels naughty about everything!

Whatever. It's kind of out of control. And stupid. The characters kept saying that they needed to be brave like arms. Many many times throughout the novel. Are arms actually brave? I don't think so. Maybe flabby, but not brave. It felt like the entire book was one giant puberty metaphor that I wasn't quite grasping. 

I will say that it was well imagined, and that there were a few passages that were moving and well-written, but on the whole, Brett Schneider really messed up. I think I will never trust him again. Unless he tries to pick me up in a bar or a club. Then, hopefully, he'll know what he's talking about.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Q: A genie shows up at your house one morning, and says that you have been chosen, Publisher's Clearing House style, to be granted one wish, if you want it. The catch is that the wish has to come in this form: You can exchange lives with one living person on the planet. Once you switch, you will have no memory of your current life, and you will never come back, you will BE this new person, memories, problems, spouses, income taxes and all. You have until noon to decide, and your decision is final. Do you take the genie up on his offer? And if so, whom do you choose?

I loved this book, but I have to say that with a caveat (strange for me, I know). Early on in my reading (I was going to say in the novel, but its not a novel, its a collection of interviews and columns Klosterman wrote for esteemed publications like Spin, Esquire and the Akron Beacon Journal) I was trying to figure out why I loved it so much, and I came to the following startling conclusion: more than perhaps anyone else in the world, I want to be Chuck Klosterman. Once I realized this, I of course tried to disprove it. Wouldn't I rather be George Clooney, or Barack Obama, or even Michael Rohd? But I kept coming back to Klosterman. He seems to have the greatest job I can imagine...He writes exclusively about pop culture, and can write about whatever he wants, talk to whomever he wants, and has essentially inserted himself into the pop culture canon that he started out covering. In the pages of this book, Klosterman hangs out on Val Kilmer's ranch, gets a ride from Bono, and discusses communism with Steve Nash over coffee. This is the life I want. He happens to be a strong writer as well, a sort of David Foster Wallace-lite...his essays and interviews end up revealing as much about himself as they do about the subject he is covering, and not in any sort of narcissistic way (also, he uses footnotes. maybe that's the main comparison) and I laughed out loud while reading this book more than any book in recent memory. But I really believe that its a wish-fulfillment thing for me...If a shlubby guy like Chuck Klosterman can make a living by having very specific opinions about metal bands and Gilbert Arenas, and sharing them with people, maybe there is hope for me yet.

If you are not me, and I suspect you are not, but you might be interested in a running diary of 24 hours of VH1 Classic or a persuasive essay comparing and contrasting Lost and Surivivor
or interviews with Thom Yorke, this book is undoubtedly for you. Klosterman's interviews are fairly short but always insightful, funny, and good-natured..people seem willing to answer questions for him others might be afraid to ask, but its never adversarial. Maybe its cause he's sort of funny looking...he looks like Brian Poshen's slightly more (but not much) attractive little brother. In spite of this, he always seems to have an off-screen girlfriend to reference in his interviews, or there's this particular passage..."if you are a weird looking dude (which I am) and you want to date exclusively beautiful women (which I did)" (he goes on to outline a strategy that involves pursuing women in relationships, which means he is not required to be better than every other single guy in Omaha, but only better than the particular man she is with. I dont necessarily condone this, but it has a certain j'ne sais quoi). Did I try to live vicariously through this funny looking dude who gets to hang out with my heroes and gets paid to write 3,000 words on why Barry Bonds is bad not just for baseball but society as a whole? Yes. Did I enjoy every sentence? Yes.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

Jimmy Corrigan is working at his nondescript cubicle job in Chicago. He has stringy hair. He's in love with the mailroom girl. He calls his mother at least once a day. He's sad. 

He opens his mail and finds a letter and a plane ticket from a father he has never met. He's invited to come meet him in Michigan for Thanksgiving. Jimmy squeezes his stuffed animal. He goes to the vending machine to think things over. He blows his nose.

When he returns, he finds a note on his desk. "I sat across from you for six months and you never once noticed me! Goodbye." Jimmy looks out the window. He sees his favorite costumed hero, The Super-Man, standing on the ledge of a tall skyscraper. The Super-Man sees Jimmy and waves. Jimmy smiles and waves back. The Super-Man prepares to take flight. He jumps. And then he falls. Eight stories to the pavement. The Super-Man is dead.

Thus, the story of Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth begins. It's a story about fathers who were never there. It's about the loneliest kind of loneliness, and what kind of imagination it takes to fill that void. It's about Chicago, both now and in 1893. 

Jimmy Corrigan is beautiful. Please read it. I'm serious. If you feel like being moved, go find this book. It's waiting for you.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Trick or Treatment? Alternative Medicine on Trial

Still more good science writing on the fraud that is called alternative medicine.

In the same vein as Snake Oil Science, two researchers (one a former homeopath) analyze the evidence for such alt med therapies as acupuncture, herbal remedies (some of which actually are efficacious), and homeopathy.

Well written and researched. It's just too bad that most humans are dumbasses and fall for the plethora of bogus claims out there, much to the detriment of their health and the weight of their wallets.

A lot of people find this subject boring, but I get off on it.

Rating: 9/10

Daddy Issues

This is an autobiographical account of a guy growing up fatherless in Long Island. Taking the place of his father figure is the gang at the local bar where his hairless cousin works.

I'm too lazy to string thoughts together and type them out, so read reviews here.

6/10 if you have a father you like.
8/10 if you are fatherless or hate your dad.

Julie will love it.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Pat, I've thought it over, and I'm ready to start moderately liking you again.

Oh high school.

I Love You, Beth Cooper opens with class valedictorian Denis Cooverman, the dweeby, sweaty, Northwestern-prone nerd, giving his graduation speech, during which he professes his undying, unrequited love for the hottest girl in school: Beth Cooper. What happens next is the wild romp of Denis's first night as a real adult man, where he gets fists punched into both eyes, assists with some minor grand theft auto, smells his first female crotch, and helps his movie-quoting friend realize he's a flamboyant homosexual.

This book was pretty stupid, but it was occasionally funny, and I read it all in one day, and nobody died, and there were no nuclear explosions. So, I'll take what I can get, is what I'm saying.

Verdict: wait for the movie. Chris Columbus is directing it, and my god, did you see how amazing he made RENT?! Lavish tango scenes! Forty-year-old actors playing young twenty-somethings! Mark and Roger screaming at the top of their vocal ranges from Santa Fe mountain ranges and New York City rooftops!!! Fuck you Chris Columbus. You had a whole career ahead of you. Home Alone. Gremlins. Home Alone 2. And then you ruined everything. Fuck yourself hard. 

I'm out.

We Were Sorry to Have Started This, Pat

Then We Came to the End, by Joshua Ferris, is the only book I have ever read that is narrated in second-person plural. I don't actually know if second-person plural is a real term, and if so, if it is the correct term to describe the narrative form of this novel. But whatever it is called, it is unique and the standout aspect of a standout novel.

Then We Came to the End describes the office life of a Chicago advertising agency over a year or two around the turn of the century, a time, apparently, of a huge economic come down and bubble burst (which obviously does not give the novel any added relevancy). The book follows a group of copywriters and art directors and their bosses and security guards as they deal with their personal and professional lives under the constant threat of being "Walked Spanish" (their Tom-Waits-derived slang for being fired) by possibly cancer-ridden supervisor Lynn Mason. The book has insight into both the collective and individual minds and pysches of these very human characters, but is, as mentioned above, told (save for a brief middle interlude) in a narrative style that begins most phrases with "we", as in "we stared at our computers, debated going to the coffee bar, played with our staplers. We waited for Benny to wander by and tell us a story, or we feared hearing Tom Mota swear at the top of his lungs" etc etc (I made those lines up, though that is indicative of the style). The man or woman behind the "we" (if there is one) is never revealed, and thus the reader is implicated as part of the collective, while simultaneously being able to view the group as a cohesive unit outside of themselves. Its a neat trick, and one that may have been extra resonant for me. While I claim to know almost nothing of the exact emotions and crises of these characters, I did work for three months as a temp in a Chicago advertising office, that, while probably not the one this novel is based on, had eerie similarities (DDB, where I worked, also occupies three stories in a large downton building off Michigan Ave., a similar cafeteria, and similar internal stairs etc). While I wasn't there long enough or important enough while there to form the kinds of bonds the book deals in, I recognize the kinds of time-wasting and collective feeling, remembering most specifically my cubicle-neighbor Alexandra's implorement for me to "just talk to her about anything" at the end of long days, or the inexplicable dread and embarrasing elation of seeing my other cubicle-neighbor let go at the end of my third week. Then We Came to an End is a hilarious look at human beings, but especially the human beings who work in small offices, in front of computers, under bosses they don't know how to treat, with people they either are in love with or can't stand or both, and who feel guilty about not doing work they don't really want to do. In other words, its a book about and for most of us. We all would enjoy it.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Yeah! Just Who Does Pat Think He Is?!?

Or "The Final Solution by Michael Chabon"

For many a year now, I have heard Andy Lampl singing his praises for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, so I thought I'd head to the good ol' Barnes and Noble and pick myself up a copy. But, alas, some other Christmastime bookstore goer had the same idea as me and it was nowhere to be found. So never having read anything by Michael Chabon before, I decided to grab this to hold me over until I get my grubby hands on a copy of Kavalier and Clay.

Now, I am a huge believer in judging books by their covers. The cover of The Final Solution proved to be a very accurate microcosm of the treasures within.

First of all: "A Story of Detection." Great. Mysteries are great. A little further reading about Chabon's inspiration for this book taught me that this is his tribute to/take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories.

Second of all: "The Final Solution." A super fantastic double play on Nazi rhetoric and Doyle's title"The Final Problem." I love it already.

The story centers around an elderly inspector-turned-beekeeper who is brought in to investigate a murder. It is 1944, and a mute nine-year old Jewish boy named Linus has appeared at the vicarage with his rare gray parrot who, incidentally, talks a lot. The parrot spouts off long strings of numbers in German - Is it a top secret code? Is it the number of a Swiss bank account? Hitler's phone number? Then a guy gets bludgeoned on the back of the head, the parrot goes missing, the and beekeeper detective detects. But it's also not really about the mystery. The whodunnit is just sort of a nice fun bonus to the rest of the book, which is poignant and nuanced and heartbreaking and fun and adventurous all at the same time. And, while not transcendent, it was my first taste of Michael Chabon, and now I'm hungry for more.

I read it on an airplane coming back to Boise from Kansas City. Towards the end of the flight, the guy next to me and I started chatting. He was flying to Alaska and lamented having already finished his book before his next six hour flight. I gave him my copy of The Final Solution, which I think sums up my experience with it: I liked it enough to want to encourage someone else to read it, but not so much that the thought of parting with it was terribly upsetting.

Also my spell check thinks that "Lampl" should be "Limply" which made me laugh.

The Final Solution: 7/10
Pat King: 2/10

I hate Pat so much that I read a self-help book

Seriously, I don't know Pat, but I wanted to keep up with the Jones.

This is the book based on Randy Pausch's last lecture, an internet bombshell that I assume all have watched.

Usually, I'm not a big self-help book fan, because the advice tends to be banal, predictable, and rehashed versions of last year's self-help book.

This is no difference, except that Randy deserves some extra slack for his positive attitude while suffering through his terminal pancreatic cancer, which ultimately took his life. He also adds some new twists on old ideas and throws in some anecdotes of his own to illustrate his points.

It's a quick read, and as with any self-help book, if you can take away one good idea, then it's worth the read.

This is worth the read.


Pat's a bastard and I've never liked him except for the one time he took me on an ice cream date and promised that everything would be okay forever.

In A Good War Is Hard To Find, Dave Griffith makes constant reference to this book, Hersey's Hiroshima. I was in South Carolina over the break, and visited an incredibly picked over Barnes & Noble. After striking out on the first three books I was searching for, I feebly asked the customer service representative if she might possibly be carrying John Hersey's Hiroshima. She led me by the hand to the military section, and together, we found it. Then we kissed for days.

Hiroshima is the journalistic account of six survivors of the first atomic bomb. Hersey details the lives of a widow, a reverend, a clerk, two doctors, and a German priest in the seconds before the bomb detonated, the hours afterwards, and the aftermath of the next forty years. 

Here's one passage that I found particularly moving:
"When Mr. Tanimoto, with his basin still in his hand, reached the park, it was very crowded, and to distinguish the living from the dead was not easy, for most of the people lay still, with their eyes open. To Father Kleinsorge, an Occidental, the silence in the grove by the river, where hundreds of gruesomely wounded suffered together, was one of the most dreadful and awesome phenomena of his whole experience. The hurt ones were quiet; no one wept, much less screamed in pain; no one complained; none of the many who died did so noisily; not even the children cried; very few people even spoke. And when Father Kleinsorge gave water to some whose faces had been almost blotted out by flash burns, they took their share and then raised themselves a little and bowed to him, in thanks."

In The New York Times' review of this book: "Nothing can be said about this book that can equal what the book has to say." I think I agree.

I also think that I need to perhaps take a small break from reading intensely heartbreaking novels. 

I ALSO think that Pat still sucks.