December 30, 2014

Food: A Love Story - Gaffigan at his Dirtiest

Hey.  You wanna read a lot of stuff about food?

No. That’s the wrong question. Do you like Jim Gaffigan (and his wife/writing partner)?

If so, you will like this book. It is basically 300 pages of riffs on food. It can get a bit much at times, and you wonder why you’re reading a book about a comic’s take on different food products, but it made me laugh. Even if there is some duplication from his live shows, this is a good collection from Gaffigan. It’s basically a “greatest hits” collection. There’s even an extended meditation what Hot Pockets mean to him.

He owes his career to Hot Pockets. If you talk about him to someone and they don’t know who he is offhand, all you need to say is “Hot Pockets” in that voice and they will know. That’s awesome connectivity.

So do you like Jim Gaffigan AND food? Then buy this book.

I Just Discovered This Cool New Band. They're called "The Killers".

I bought the Killers greatest hits collection

I always kind of liked the Killers. I had heard a few songs that I knew were Killers songs, and I dug them I found them like some modern day version of Queen in how anthemic the songs were.

So I bought this CD as a gift for my wife for a road trip were we were taking. The car was a rental and we didn’t know the area so the terrestrial radio was out. This was the only CD we brought.

It turned out that I really like the Killers. I knew every song and knew them even better by the time the trip was over. I like them so much I just looked up this CD on a streaming music service so I could listen to it again.

I still don't get the boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend I had in....

But other than that, go. Buy it.

So, yeah.  This is a great collection

December 12, 2014

Pretty Glad When I Came to the End: Let Down by Joshua Ferris's 'Then We Came To The End"

If you talk about this book, you have to talk about the narrative gimmick.

The majority of the book’s narration takes place in the second person plural.

That means it is all “We did this,” and “We did that”.

It was distracting at first. I think it was on page 18 when I said to myself that the gimmick fades away. Actually, it was page eighteen, because I made a note of it in my head. It was kind of like the vernacular in Clockwork Orange or the novels of Irving Welsh. The narrative fade away. The closest comparison is “Bright Lights, Big City,” where McInerney gives a sense of immediacy to the narrative by using the second person. All the action in that novel is “You do this,” etc. It really personalizes what’s going on as a reader, perhaps even more so than a straight first person narration.

The problem, narrative, is that the “We” creates a distance, even though it is a first person form. As a reader you don’t feel included, but the “We” refers to a group of people, and you never get a sense of who the person(s) speaking are supposed to be.

That said, Ferris nails office life. He does it so well, I almost didn’t want to read the book when I came home from my own office. Why make your leisure reflect your work hours.

The book is structured in basically four main parts, two large parts with the “We” structure, with an interlude between focusing on the office’s boss’s cancer. There is a coda that is five years after the main action, where the interlude is transformed to a book one of the character was writing.

Hold on. Here’s what the book is about. An advertising agency deals with the recession of the late 90s – early aughts. People are laid off one by one in a process that seem like it is taking a year (In a similar situation I was in, turnover was much more drastic and quick). They all deal with losing colleagues and the anxiety that they may be next in their own way. One guy is mad, and comes back dressed as a clown ready to….
But I don’t want to spoil anything, since that’s the only real action of the book.

The worst part is that the main action of the book end on September 11th. So the book goes from a writing class exercise with some truths about the workplace and grows a Ham Fist. The closing coda doesn’t help, especially the last sentence. Especially the last sentence. It hangs a lampshade on the whole narrative gimmick. The book wasn’t bad, but it could have been so much better.

The funny thing is that there is a short interview with the author at the end. One of my thoughts was that the part with the sick boss was a bit of pathos-laden overkill, and the book would have improved with the elision of that segment and the whole subplot. In the interview, Ferris calls that part the narrative center of his book. I guess we’re reading his work differently.

December 7, 2014

Chester Brown's "Ed the Happy Clown"

Confession time: I only picked this up because my name can be shortened to Ed and sometimes I like to dress up as a clown. But we all read books for different reasons, that in no way invalidates that I read this book and enjoyed it, for the most part. When I had just started reading it, my wife asked me how it was, and I told her “Weird and dark,” to which she replied that it might not be the best thing to read before bed. I should listen to my wife more, but I didn’t here. There’s a story about Ed and a vampire woman and Ronald Reagan from an alternate dimension finding himself in existence in a very weird place in our dimension. My only criticism is that there is action that is logical from frame to frame, but there is no real overall arc. Reading the end notes of this edition shows that the writer, Chester Brown, seems to have written that way too, so early on there is not real strong characterization of any of the characters until he finds their voices. I liked this more as a way that it shows an artist’s potential, and I will check out some of his later work, but this is lacking in a way I can’t fully articulate.

General Props to Tom Holt, and here in specific "Doughnut".

Tom Holt is someone I only discovered recently. I was looking for a writer to fill the void of smart funny writers that I had since Vonnegut died and I caught up with the Terry Pratchett series and Tom Robbins is not nearly prolific enough. Holt fits the bill, and he is woefully unknown in the states. He writes smart fiction that takes off from what we know of science and plays with it. It is like comedic science fiction, but I don’t know if that pigeon –holes him too much. Here he takes the idea of an analogue of the Large Hadron Collider blowing up and multiverse theory. Some bits are overdone – the main character has an invisible hand – but overall the effect is a fun ride of speculative fiction. I’ve only read his five most recent books, but I’m glad he has a big back catalogue. 

Flaubert's Parrot: Leave this From the Canon

When I was going to college, this was talked of as a relatively recent book. It was new when my professors were in the place I was, but it wasn’t good enough to make the syllabi. Barnes was just part of an overrepresented demographic when a new canon was being put together.

But does it deserve to be part of a new canon?  The blurbs on the cover hint at inclusion, drawing comparisons to some of my personal favorite writers, such as Joyce and Calvino. One specifically mentions “Pale Fire,” which is one of my favorite books in my mind even though I haven’t opened it in years. Personally, I didn’t like this book as much as I thought I would. I liked other Barnes, having read England, England and The History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters. I  don’t like it but  I can’t place my finger on why not. Do I not care about Braithwaite, his protagonist? Do I not care about Flaubert? Or do I not like Flaubert’s characters? I can only think of one – Emma Bovary. I didn’t like her, but not as much as I didn’t like Anna Karenina. I wanted that train to come so bad, but when Emma took up poison, I was at most indifferent. 

It can’t be the structure. I like the random pastiche stuff, and it is done well here. It’s just that the book lacked life of some sort. I just wasn’t there. I should have picked up a different Barnes off the shelf.

A World Unnamed: Dennis Johnson's "The Name of the World"

Spoiler alert: we never learn the name of the world.

More seriously, though, I want to like Dennis Johnson.  When I went to graduate school in the mid-aughts, the writers loved him because he put together beautiful sentences. And this was before he got his bonafides because he won a Pulitizer
This is the third book of his I read, after Jesus’ Son and Nobody Move. Of the three, I think this is my least favorite. I say that because I think I am at a place in my life where if I am reading fiction, I want something more plotty. I guess I just want something to happen.  Not much happens here.

Plot rundown: Guy who has lost his wife and young daughter, and who was a history teacher who ended up working for a politician navigates a year in his life. This year sees the unexpected end of a teaching assignment and an unconsummated relationship with a graduate student. He eventually moves away from the setting, leaving in the night.

And, uh, that’s it. He does put together some beautiful sentences, but I wasn’t looking for some meditation on the human condition.

November 18, 2014

Haiku Review: The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Collins

I can’t help but think
This is a metaphor for
Something, but of what?

Haiku Review: Ready Player One by Cline

Slow – ninety pages.
Balls out awesome – several
Hundred pages. Win.