Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stuff I've Been Reading: March

Book's Bought (Most of these where picked up at the excellent Oakland, "Pay The Musuem's Mortgage Sale!"

A Grief Observed, CS. Lewis
Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahmn Smith
Movie Lust, Maitland McDonagh
Peter Jackson From Gore To Mordor
Tokyo Year Zero, David Peace
The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchet
Mort, Terry Pratchett
Boom, Tom Brokaw
Love And Other Demons, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Still Life With Woodpecker, Tom Robbins
Duane Depressed, Larry McMurtry
Texasville, Larry McMurtry
Some Can Whistle, Larry McMurtry
Roughing It, Mark Twain
Books Of Blood, Clive Barker
Home, Marylinn Robinson
The Watchmen, Robert Crais,
The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
The Long Goodbye, Chandler
Road, Larry McMurtry
The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep And Never Had To
The Moviegoer, Walter Percy
Bright Light Big City, McInerney

Books Read

Badasses, Ben Thompson
Geektastic, Various
Goth Girl Rising, Barry Lyga
The Hunger Games, Susan Collins
Devil's In Exile, Chuck Hogan
Why We Suck, Dennis Leary
The Moviegoer, Walter Percy
Everyman, Phillip Roth

Badasses, Ben Thompson

Badasses as suggested provides portraits of the various Badasses who shaped history. As that title and description might suggest it is something of a tongue in cheek work. But that doesn’t mean it’s a sloppy one. From what research I’ve done, the facts in the book are all legitimate. And while the running gag of Thompson lurching into hyperbolic Fratboy patois when describe various feats of daring do may cause some purists to rip their hair out, there’s no denying that it is a funny running gag. What’s more, while the cynical might write off Thompson’s potrait of badasses across genders, cultures, and races as tokenism, Thompson really does go out of his way to be inclusive, and seems so sweetly enamored by the awesomeness of his subjects no matter their make up that one can’t help but admire him. Against all odds Badasses is one of the funniest, most well researched, and progressive history books I’ve read in awhile.

Geektastic, Various

Collection of short stories by various prominent geek authors, all dealing with the day to day life of geeks. Some are overblown, some a bit too clichéd, but there are a few here that are sweetly perfect. Plus the chapters are interspersed by comics by Brian Lee O’Malley and Hope Larson, the Nick and Nora Charles of The Indie Comics set.

Goth Girl Rising, Barry Lyga

I discovered Barry Lyga during a course on young adult fiction. I was quite impressed with The Adventures Of Fanboy And Goth Girl, a sweet wise coming of age book that knowingly chronicled the intense love hate relationship that can form between adolescent outcasts with a knowing precision. And have been equally impressed with his other works, Boy Toy and Hero Type (he also had one of the sweetly perfect stories in geektastic).

Lyga has that certain ear for Teenage Melodrama that both SE Hinton and John Hughes had, though for my money he’s a better writer then either. He has that most valuable writers gift of compassion. You feel like he can’t help but like every one of his characters.

Goth Girl Rising is a messier book then its predecessor. Mostly because the neat coming of age arc has been replaced by a more ambitious one powered by confusion, anger and grief. It’s a tougher book to write, and maybe a tougher book to love, but it stands on its own both as a satisfying counterpart and sequel (a rare thing in this kind of book) and as its own experience.

The Hunger Games, Susan Collins

The Hunger Games pretty much kicks ass. Taking one part 1984, one part Phillip K. Dick, one part Shirley Jackson and so many parts of Battle Royale I’m frankly surprised that there isn’t a law suit, The Hunger Games is young adult fiction with balls. It might not have the film franchises or covers of Time and Newsweek, but I can guarantee that this is one that’ll be read by generations of astonished children when all the would be pretenders to the Potter throne are dead and gone.

It has a pretty killer premise. Some unspecified time in the future, America having suffered a cataclysm is now Panam. A place of twelve (formerly 13 the last was wiped out in a rebellion) districts ruled over by the vicious and decadent capital. Every year they call each of the districts to provide an adolescent girl and boy, who are then shipped to the capital and forced in the Hunger Games to fight to the death until only one remains.

I kept waiting for the book to soft pedal but it never did. The Hunger Games lives up to the full gruesome promise of its premise.

Its not perfect, Collins use of the present tense is occasionally distracting and clumsy, and she’s not exactly an author who’ll say something once and trust to to get it when she can remind you of something by repeating it fifty or so times. But these are ultimately minor problems when faced with the vividness of the world Collins presents and the viciousness with which she carries it out.

It’s the kind of book that will be passed down, scarring one generation after the other.

Devil’s In Exile, Chuck Hogan

Chuck Hogan has a problem. Well Chuck Hogan has many problems, but the main problem is he’s not Dennis Lehane. This is understandable, I and strictly speaking six billion or so other people are also not Dennis Lehane, but Chuck Hogan, is playing in Lehane’s backyard and well Boston Crime Fiction already has a king sitting on its dark throne. Every Hogan book whispers “Why aren’t you reading Dennis Lehane instead?” And unfortunately Hogan’s flat airport prose, stock characters, and predictable plots often provide no answer past “I don’t know.” Hogan can come up with some killer premises, he just is often unable to deliver on them.

Well Devil’s In Exile is probably the first to at least have some kind of an answer. Hogan’s stripped himself down, both in scope (it takes some mighty fancy layout tricks to get the book to three hundred pages) and prose styling. The result is something that could have been written by Westlake in his prime. Almost.

The book starts with one of Hogan’s trademark “Why didn’t I think of that?” premises. A disgruntled war vet gathers together a bunch of other disgruntled war vets who start ripping off Drug Dealers as “Sugar Bandits.” Trashing the product and keeping the money. Drug Dealers as a rule don’t like getting ripped off, and the stakes and rewards grow exponentionally with each heist.

While Hogan’s new found leanness suits him, and keeps the book much more interesting I could still see Hogan slipping into some of his old traps. Hogan has never met a narrative cliché beat to death in the eighties that he didn’t love. Nor is he afraid to ladle on the subplots of people we could give less of a shit about. Another of his problems is he can’t write for women. Like at all. His big breakout novel Prince Of The City unfortunately hung its narrative crux on having three men being obsessed with a cardboard cutout dressed up like a bank manager. Devil’s In Exile has two prominent female characters, one is another of Hogan’s theoretically irresistible (I suppose? Maybe?) women and the other a classic woman in fridge whose death serves no purpose but motivation.

But just when these flaws start to overwhelm the book, Devil’s In Exile takes this bizarre out of nowhere left turn and suddenly turns into the greatest Heroic Bloodshed movie never made.

Look I don’t know if that made it a better book, the comic book opera of a meat grinder that is the last one hundred pages is completely at odds with the gritty low to the ground crime story that occupied the first two hundred. But what I do know is that shit gets real. And if John Woo is ever foolish enough to venture across the Pacific again, I hope someone gives him this book to develop, because it could get awesome.

Why We Suck, Dennis Leary

Dennis Leary’s Why We Suck, is another of Leary’s vicious tirades against the pussification of America. Its impossible to get through without laughing and maybe a little bit of wincing.

Yet despite my admiration for him, the fact remains that Dennis Leary is not a great comedian. Oh don’t get me wrong, he’s a very good comedian. But he falls well short of the pantheon. A truly great comic, your George Carlins, Lewis Blacks, Richard Pryor’s, Chris Rock’s, and Patton Oswalt, are like stiletto blades. They lacerate you without you ever feeling a thing. Leary’s a serrated blade, you feel it go in.

The problem with this is it puts your defenses up. While the others anesticize you, before going in with the scalpels.

The Moviegoer, Walter Percy

Described to me as the closest thing an American has come to producing a Russian Novel, The Moviegoer is an ennui soaked look at modern America of the type that was so popular after World War II.

But The Moviegoer has aged better then its brethren, as its ennui is less localized in that particular milieu, though it is certainly anchored in it. Also if The Moviegoer is indeed an American Russian Novel it also contains just enough of the decayed Southren Gothic to subvert the form.

The Moviegoer follows a young successful businessman, as he sleeps with his secretaries, tries to keep his cousin from committing suicide, deals with his families expectations and the inherent emptiness of modern life and of course goes to the movies.

For anyone still upset that there are as of yet only four Salinger books The Moviegoer should be manna from heaven.

Everyman, Phillip Roth

Now that Mailer and Updike have passed, Roth remains the last of the great 20th century chroniclers of the American Johnson.

At first this looks like its going to be one of the increasingly rare books that’s not about Roth’s cock and will instead be about Roth’s fear of mortality. But don’t worry, he writes about his cock too.

As usual with Roth, there’s much less here then meets the eye. The book follows the life of a man and the various visitations mortality made throughout his life. The character is dead when we first meet him, which makes it notoriously hard to take a rooting interest. Despite this considerable handicap, he continues to die laboriously over the next two hundred or so pages. Having long samey conversations with allegorical characters, wistfully remembering idealized 40’s Jewish New York, and all the other things Roth is want to write about on those oh so rare occasions when he’s not writing about his dick.

It doesn’t help matters that the nameless character, is in Roth speak, a bit of a putz. He’s annoyingly oblivious and self centered, taking no responsibility for his flaws and comes to nothing worth noting, much less writing a book about. As for the other charcters, well their ciphers, unless their women in which case they belong to Roth’s rotating gallery of symbols, sluts and shrews.

While there are isolated moments of elegance. One can never say that Roth doesn’t know how to write a sentence, they are few and far between. Spread between unfocused self pitying ruminations, and graphic descriptions of medical procedures.

Depressingly Everyman suggests nothing so much as the space between being one of America’s most respected authors, and being a 13 year old Goth girl writing poetry is not as far as one might like to think.


Marcus said...

Let us know what you thought about the Abraham Lincoln book. I loved Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Bryce Wilson said...

I'll let you know. I haven't read Pride yet, mainly because I haven't read the original Pride yet and I'm pretty sure there will be a place in Lit Nerd hell reserved for me if I read PPZ first.

But I am a big fan of his How To Survive A Horror film so I'm looking forward to reading it.

The Dirty Mac said...

I must read that Peter Jackson book. I must!