Thursday, December 15, 2011

File Under Meager Accomplishments: Book List, 2011

 Here's a list of the books I read or partially read, in no particular order, this year, along with a few words, mostly only slightly uninteresting. Please read and forward on to the the authors in question at your leisure.


When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris
I read the majority of this book while sitting in a parking lot protecting wedding goers' vehicles. This was comprised mainly of me sitting in my van, smoking cigarettes, reading, and every twenty minutes or so, strolling around the parking lot to make sure that no one's cars had been vandalized or whisked away as part of some heretofore unknown mechanical rapture. During my six hour career as a parking lot attendant, while gaining an unhealthy, undeserved sense of ownership over a rhombus-shaped piece of concrete that I previously had only walked by ("Hey, cab! You can't fucking turn around in this lot!"), this book at times made me laugh aloud. And essentially, I was paid $20 an hour to read it. Best book I've read all year! 

The Air Conditioned Nightmare, Henry Miller
This book sat on the back of the toilet for months before Lindsay silently and graciously removed it, as it was clear no progress had been made in my reading of it. I don't know if it's just because I'm older than I was when I first read Miller, or if it's just that this book (that I'd never heard of before I bought it on a whim at the Newberry Library Book Sale), which must have been poorly accepted in the States, is a stinker, but I just couldn't get through it. I loved Tropic of Cancer and The Colossus of Maroussi, but hearing Miller's whiny diatribes about how much America blows is just plain fucking boring. I'm certainly no nationalist, but if you truly despise your homeland so much, why waste an entire book complaining about how ugly Boston is? Everyone knows that. Get back to France and drink wine, do some mescaline, and fuck a bunch of weird people. That's what everyone likes to read about, anyway. Also, invent a time machine so I can send this review 50 years into the past. This book isn't even good for poopin.' Two shits down.

The Chainbreaker Bike Book, Shelley Lynn Jackson and Ethan Clarke
I read the majority of this book, tried to fix my brakes, and failed. This either says something about me or the book. I think I'll let history decide who is to blame. Useful if, at times, highly cryptic information. Fun, zine style anarcho stories about working at bike shops, tattoos, and using bicycle tubes to make bracelets or whatever.

The Braindead Megaphone, George Saunders
A series of essays wherein, among other things, Saunders gets to go on a paid vacation to Dubai, stay in the most luxurious hotels in all the world, and write about the disparity between himself, perched aloft his ivory balcony while sipping a blood diamond/kiwi reduction smoothie, and the immigrant proletariat, hunched miles below, paid pennies a day to continually wash and squeegee the gold inlaid marble steps leading up to the hotel's entrance. Powerful stuff. I mean, imagine it- blood diamonds.. in a drink!

Quicker Than the Eye, Ray Bradbury
 I read this entire book, but remember nothing about it. Honestly, no recollection whatsoever. Guess it wasn't that good. I'm about to read his more popular works, since I've gone my whole life avoiding them, so I hope they're better than this. At least memorable. Oh, wait! This was a collection of short stories. Eh, whatever.

McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes, Editors of McSweeney's
The name pretty much says it all. A whole book dedicated to literary jokes. There's a page in the back with a graph that charts the ratio of the jokes you actually got to how big of a fucking dork you are. Well, there should be. Even calculating liberally, my score was alarmingly high. I never realized being in the intelligentsia elite would be so lonely.

McSweeney's #32
Reading these quarterlies is a bit like listening to the Slayer station on Pandora before you've finished training it- most of it's great, but every once in a while, you're stuck listening to "Ain't my Bitch" while you're washing your dog or something. The irony isn't lost on you, but it still sucks.

McSweeney's #37
More short form fiction from McSweeney's 37th quarterly installment. Not all great, but mostly great. McSweeney's doesn't put out much plop. This issue also included a few chapters from an upcoming "Yukon adventure story" by John Sayles called A Moment in the Sun. The few chapters I read were awesome. Plus, getting an excerpt from a Yukon adventure story really made me feel like I was reading in the 1920's. Publishers don't seem to release physical trailers for their books like they used to. It's a shame, really. As soon as I can find Sayle's book as a  .mobi on Demonoid, I'm totally downloading it!

More Information than You Require, John Hodgman
Hodgman's sequel to The Areas of My Expertise. The formula works, but it started to get old in this book.  I still loved it. I haven't rushed out to buy That is All yet, but I'll probably read it at some point.

The Instructions, Adam Levin
I met the author of this book at his book signing at The Boring Store early this year. Knowing absolutely nothing about this 1,000 plus page tome, I bought it simply based on its commanding and intimidating size. It took a couple of months, but I got through it. I even friended Adam Levin on Facebook, as I had developed somewhat of a case of Stockholm Syndrome about halfway through the book. It was a great read, but little did I realize that when the main character of the story refers to the book he is writing (and you are reading) as a new scripture for the Judaic religion, Levin, as an author, seems to be fucking serious about it. I know satire, and when I finally finished the book, I didn't get that smug feeling of self-righteousness one gets in knowing an author really pulled one over on the subject he or she is satirizing. No, by all accounts, this book actually appears to espouse a hardline stance for radical new Jewish thought, couched in the story of a young-boy-would-be-prophet/savior-of-God's-forsaken-people. Entertaining read, and there was an element, for me anyway, of seeing something I'm not supposed to. This book wasn't meant for goyem like me, except perhaps as a stern warning of what fate awaits my wretched blood. Nonetheless, I still invite Levin to every Brickfight show on Facebook, just on the off chance that he may think we're a Hacidic punk band, and that the name might refer to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or something.
Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 1
The first 60 or so pages of this book are filled with academic writers patting themselves on the back for undertaking such a massive project- thanking themselves for the thankless job of sifting through Twain's yellowing, rum and piss stained private papers. Once I got to the actual autobiography, I made it about 30 pages in before I realized, "Wow, Twain was a real self-important prick!" Any writer who decrees upon high that his autobiography may not be published until 100 years after his death is either highly delusional about his value to culture at large, or has something damning and shameful to hide. I'd say both are true in this case.
Gun, With Occasional Music, Jonathan Lethem
This was the second book I read on my new Kindle, and at the time I wasn't aware of just how many errors a lot of these .mobi files have. Perhaps the industry of ebook editing is still in its fledgling stage, or maybe this was just a bad "rip," but, WOW, did this book have a shitload of grammatical and spelling errors. So many, in fact, that I thought perhaps that they were intentional, and that at the end of the book I'd be let in on the joke. Because, honestly, this book was a horrible joke. I was a huge fan of Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, but this book is a hard-boiled detective story set in the future complete with talking animals and "Babyheads," a genetic experiment designed to make children grow up faster gone horribly awry. Bad, slow timing, and the mystery revealed wasn't that shocking or illuminating whatsoever. With as many mistakes and just bad literary techniques as there were in this book, I felt as if I was reading an O. Henry award winner from Idiocracy

While Mortals Sleep: Unpublished Short Fiction, Kurt Vonnegut
These are all short stories from before Vonnegut really found his culture-cutting voice. Milquetoast, lackluster fiction with a high morality factor that you really don't find in any of his novels after he went off to war. His publishers should have let his mortal coil sleep, and left these charming, ethical vignettes in his family's attic, to be used as stocking stuffers for his great-grandchildren. What I really learned from this book is that in order to develop a scathing satirical voice one should probably travel thousands of miles and watch people die, like, a lot.

Pygmy, Chuck Palahniuk
I wasn't a huge fan of Rant, so I didn't really have high hopes for this book. To my surprise, Pygmy turned out to be one of Palahniuk's best since Choke. Told from the perspective of a young Chinese would be terrorist, the narrative is delivered in broken and coded English that takes a while to fully understand, but by the end of the book just seems normal. Going back to reading properly structured sentences takes some getting used to, actually. Palahniuk's chosen method of delivery for this story is not dissimilar to the first part of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, except, in typical Palahniuk fashion, the entire book is written from the perspective of a character that the reader must actively engage to fully understand. Faulkner copped out by putting the perspective of people his readers could actually understand in his (legendary, critically lauded) novel. That's right, I just compared Palahniuk to Faulkner. And also, essentially called Faulkner a pussy. I stand by my decision.

I Drink For A Reason, David Cross
Somewhere between David Sedaris and John Hodgman, this book is another hodge-podge collection of essays and musings from one of America's great funnymen. Unfortunately, this book does not match up to his sketch writing, stand up, and acting prowess. It's a fairly boring read, with no real structure, except for a few one-liners thrown in hastily at the end of some of his essays to tie them into the next one you're about to read- almost like a Mr. Show segue way ,  but not nearly as witty or well timed. Not to mention his unbelievable overuse of the words "ubiquitous" and "ostentatious." At one point, he even refers to something as a "ubiquitous ostentation." I hear the audiobook is pretty hilarious, though.

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
This book has been on my list to read for years, but I just never got around to it. What a great book! I don't know much about Toole's life other than the fact that he killed himself before this book ever got published, and that his doting mother hounded an English professor at a local college to read it before it finally did get published, but if the main character, Ignatius C. Reilley and his insane, self-centered roommate mother are in any way autobiographical, it is no surprise that Toole blew his own brains out. Scholars and literary critics always mourn over the loss of such a great writer and what work we missed out on by him preemptively ending his own life, but it's doubtful he ever could have achieved as great a work as he did with this book. Also, Dwight Schrute of television's The Office HAS to be at least loosely based on the character of Ignatius C. Reilley. I wonder... Anyone got B.J. Thomas's number?

 Imperial Bedrooms, Bret Easton Ellis
Ellis's "long awaited" sequel to Less Than Zero. Falling somewhere between the seminal work he shit out while in college and American Psycho, this book is basically just two hundred or so pages of Hollywood self-aggrandizement, brutal sex, and some heinous murder thrown in for good measure. What is left out is all the sly, poignant themes about celebrity culture and the pursuit of wealth that made both Less Than Zero and American Psycho so fantastic. Ever since Lunar Park, a novel about a fictional character named Brett Easton Ellis by Brett Easton Ellis, I've been a little suspicious and reluctant of this author. I doubt I'll read anything else he comes out with in the future.  Ellis is today's F. Scott Fitzgerald.. with juggalo face paint.

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami
Someone recommended this book to me years ago and wrote the title in Sharpie on the back of a used Taco Bell hot sauce packet. I had the packet tacked to my bulletin board for years, until I finally got rid of it the last time I moved. I wish I had followed the hot sauce's advice so long ago! What a phenomenal book. I can't wait to read everything else I can get my hands on of Murakami's. I'll never be so cavalier towards a condiment again.

Zeitoun, Dave Eggers
In the same vein as What is the What, Eggers tells the story of real life people who have gone through a horrible tragedy. This time, the setting is Hurricane Katrina, and the main characters are the Zeitouns, a middle eastern family with a well known painting and construction company in New Orleans, and their harrowing misadventures with Louisiana law enforcement after the breaching of the city's levies in 2005. A great read, but I do question Egger's motivation for telling these (albeit necessary) stories. I think he's got a case of that San Franciscan White Guilt that a lot of writers get after they option their narcissistic, semi-autobiographical novels for one million dollars that never gets made into a movie (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius). Whatever the case may be, he's a great writer and seems to have found his niche in telling the stories of those that society has heaped so much shit onto. This, coupled with the philanthropic work he does in conjunction with these books, along with the 826 workshops across the country, must surely allow his rich, tortured soul to sleep at night on his mattress made of Icelandic infant skin.


Kimberly81 said...

LOVED this blog.

Murakami...*sigh*. Murakami and Tom Perrotta are two of my fav authors.

Nice list. Sedaris books always make me laugh aloud -he is just completely unabashed and I love it.

I think my favs that I read this year were:

Dan Simmons 'Carrion Comfort'
Kazuo Ishiguro 'Never Let Me Go'
Peter Straub 'Shadowland' and 'Houses Without Doors'
Tom Perrotta 'The Wishbones'
Sarah Waters 'The Little Stranger'
Ali Shaw 'The Girl With Glass Feet'
Thomas McGuane 'Driving the Rim'
Rose Tremain 'Trespass'
Dan Chaon 'Among the Missing' and 'Await Your Reply'
Dennis Cooper 'Frisk' and 'Try'


Anonymous said...

Hey Jon, Chris (angles) here. Just read this and your older entries. It's good stuff! You're a really good, entertaining writer. This makes me want to start a blogspot, though surely it would be bereft of such lavish phraseology as to be found herein. No, but seriously, good stuff

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