If Titus Andronicus is the literary equivalent to a b-movie, then The Castle of Otranto is one of those SyFy straight-to-cable originals. Titus is De...moreIf Titus Andronicus is the literary equivalent to a b-movie, then The Castle of Otranto is one of those SyFy straight-to-cable originals. Titus is Dead Alive; Otranto is Sharktopus.
I read this book for a class on Gothic fiction. Word is it set the standard for everything that came after. For me, that puts the whole body of Gothic work into question, as Otranto is pretty much just a hodgepodge of Shakespearean motifs scotch taped together.
A few weeks ago, I was in the audience as Tom Laveen talked about his new book, Manicpixiedreamgirl. At the time, I had no idea the title was a trope....moreA few weeks ago, I was in the audience as Tom Laveen talked about his new book, Manicpixiedreamgirl. At the time, I had no idea the title was a trope. In case you’re as clueless as I was, the term refers to shallow, quirky ladies in films (typically the romantic interest) who teach thoughtful male protagonists how to appreciate their lives. Think Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown or Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer. The Internet seems to know a lot about it.
As I was reading this sad book about a teenager dying of cancer, that term jumped into my head. Because Gus is totally a manic pixie dream girl. You’ve got this sad girl who spends her life dying. Until she meets this guy with only one leg who lives in metaphor and does these absurdly capital-r-Romantic things for her.
As is typical with John Green, the characters are incredibly interesting and insightful. Even the stock characters like Gus. The have the kind of conversations with one another that thinking folks would kill for. It’s all so improbable, but it’s so lovely to read that you just don’t care about the unlikeliness of these people actually existing. The book is real in a very harsh way, but none of this could ever happen.
I feel silly saying that this book was great. It’s fucking John Green. What else would it be? (less)
The marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) tells me that Julie Halpern is an author of acclaim.
The marketing department...moreThe marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) tells me that Julie Halpern is an author of acclaim.
The marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) was kind enough to include a page at the end of this book that gives credit to the different individuals who make up the marketing department for making this book possible.
The marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) likes to give itself handjobs at the expense of its acclaimed authors.
The marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) kind of has a point. It did great work. It convinced me that I should pick up this book and take it home with me. It provided Halpern with a relatively attractive cover (not garish, at the very least). It made sure the book crossed my path.
The marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) may not have mislead me. Halpern may be an author of some acclaim. I have never heard of her, but that means just about nothing. However, I can say, with relative certainty, that the only entity that would provide this book with acclaim is the marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan). And that is because this book is not good. Wait a second there. It isn't bad, either. Not damningly so, anyway. It's one of those middle-of-the-road blah blah blahs. The book is conversational in that Catcher in the Rye sort of way, but fails to ever reach that level of affectiveness. This is a book without a single scene. The reader views everything through the lens of the protagonist, a mixed up teen girl with weight, anxiety, and parental issues. Which would be fine if it were written differently. But it's like a journal. It's like someone's mother decided that she wanted to write an edgy YA novel with great voice, so she started channeling this character and writing down her thoughts as they came to her. Great to get the process going, but terrible as a finished product. If you're going to go on great, sprawling tangents, you need to make them relevant. Even if you're writing as a teenager. Because to do anything else is an insult to teenagers.
The marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) can do a lot with a formulaic YA novel. When you start reading this book they sold you, you'll immediately encounter a feeling of deja vu. When you finish, the feeling will be even stronger. Wait, you'll think. Haven't I read a book where (view spoiler)[ the protagonist is forced to choose between two love interests from two different worlds? Where the pull toward each of them is equally strong and there is no solution that won't end the world as we know it? Where right at the end, just before the two trains collide, something really convenient happens and one of those two steps aside? Where the protagonist gets the right guy/girl and lives happily ever after? (hide spoiler)] Fuck you, marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) for thinking you can repackage the same shitty three act plot and expect me not to notice. Some of us are aware that this is the YA formula. And some of us are fucking sick of it.
The marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) isn't a complete detriment to society. They were kind enough to let an overweight girl with issues be the hero. They allowed her to thrive. They let her be accepted by herself and others. They allowed her to put a positive spin on the therapeutic process. They let her be strong. Halpern, of course, is the one who did the good here. Her writing leaves something to be desired, but there's no getting around the fact that she created a character who isn't the nicest, isn't the prettiest, and isn't the skinniest. This is a wonderful thing.
The marketing department at Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan) would like you to disregard everything but that last paragraph. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I was driving with my sister out near the beach in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio when I ran over a squirrel. My sister gasped and our eyes met. In that...moreI was driving with my sister out near the beach in our hometown of Dayton, Ohio when I ran over a squirrel. My sister gasped and our eyes met. In that moment, we decided that it was for the best that the squirrel stay in the street. Leave it to God to decide whether it was suffering. After that, we went and got ice cream near the pier and fed the unicorns as they splashed in the surf. I can’t remember what flavor of ice cream I got.
Write two pages about a book you hated. Write two pages about feeding unicorns near a pier.
Yeah, that was the format of the book. Brief anecdote, then writing prompt. This book isn’t about writing memoirs, it’s about coming up with ideas for writing memoirs. Thinking about them, if you will. Hmm.
My favorite part of this book was the progression of the prompts. It’s clear at somewhere near the midpoint that the author is fucking tired of writing this shit. The anecdotes get shorter and shorter as the book reaches its conclusion, which is just a couple more pages of detached writing prompts. If it weren’t so painfully stupid, it might be amusing.
I will state for the record that I am the wrong audience for this book. I cannot think about such self-conscious, silly things without mocking them. I also am not a retired person (in my post-book what-the-fuck? moment, I turned it over and saw that it was published by the AARP).
Write two pages about a book you reviewed. Write two pages about that time you almost had sex with your cousin.(less)
There’s always a part of me that feels kind of bad about disliking a memoir. When I’ve read the story of someone’s life, I’ve, in many ways, experienc...moreThere’s always a part of me that feels kind of bad about disliking a memoir. When I’ve read the story of someone’s life, I’ve, in many ways, experienced their highs and lows. For me, it’s especially difficult to not be able to empathize with the painful parts. And that’s only complicated when I don’t necessarily dislike the book itself. I dislike Stacey O’Brien.
She has certainly done a great deal in her time spent on this planet. And her selflessness in dedicating herself to something as high maintenance as an owl is certainly commendable (I get seriously nervous at the prospect of caring for plants). But there’s just so much about her that rubs me the wrong way.
Her most obvious offense is her writing, the dialogue in particular. These two passages are supposed to have come from the mouths of living, breathing humans:
“It’s a wildlife area with walking and biking trails. There was a long, protracted battle to save it from development. It’s become a crucial habitat for many endangered species of birds. Most of the other estuaries have been filled in and paved over” (p. 141).
“You have to meet my grandparents. My grandfather has been a drummer all his life. He played in big bands during the Depression when he was only thirteen years old. He made enough money to support two families, his own and my grandmother’s, saving both families from losing everything during the Depression- and he was just a kid himself. Then, in the ‘40s and ‘50s Grandpa played in big bands with legendary performers like Frankie Carle and Horace Heidt. He raised his sons to be drummers. So there are a lot of drummers in my family” (p. 160-161).
And yet she makes no reference to living in a futuristic setting populated by androids. Go figure.
Having to suffer through writing like that from the beginning gave me a headache. I think I may have actually gotten whiplash from shaking my head so much. But I guess that’s forgivable. I mean, most people can’t write worth a damn. But forcing myself to get past that, as difficult as it was, was wasted effort. Because I developed a bubbling hatred for her on page 88. Allow me to explain.
Ms. O’Brien has to feed her owl cut-up mouse bits. She gets these whole frozen mice from the University lab, which she defrosts in the microwave and cuts into pieces with a pair of scissors. When the frozen mouse funding dries up, she’s forced to buy live mice from a pet store and dispatch them on their own. Her initial method, before learning she can swing them by the tail and smash them on the floor, is holding them still and cutting their heads off with that same pair of scissors. Gruesome? Yes. A bit cruel? Perhaps. But it’s a necessary evil if the survival of the owl is paramount.
On one occasion, she has dinner guests over and opts to leave her sack o’ live mice in the bathtub for safekeeping. When she returns to off them, she discovers that two are missing. She searches the house through the night and into the morning, eventually discovering the precocious little beasts. Not knowing what they’ve been up to (they could now be covered in bacteria or have ingested some kind of poison), she isn’t willing to give them to her owl. So, instead, she decides to take them to a nearby stream and let them free in the bushes.
I may just be sensitive to this because I just finished reading T.C. Boyle’s When the Killing’s Done, which is about the ramifications of invasive species. But the funny part is that she recognizes this behavior as inappropriate in regard to other animals. When talking about a variety of deer being rehabilitated by a friend, she says “they can’t be released because they might interfere with the indigenous species here” (p. 168). It’s strange that she claims to care about animals in general, but has no qualms about setting loose what may be a breeding pair of non-native mice into the local environment. What’s more, she won’t feed those mice to her own barn owl for fear of their unsuitability as food, but she’s just fine with the resident population of wild barn owls (which she takes note of several times) making a snack of them.
And, lastly, she spends a few pages anthropomorphizing the owl’s various hoots and feather rufflings. I’ll leave it to you to assume how annoying that was.(less)
My recent tangle with mice and subsequent precarious dancing on that fine line between sanitary home and genuine rodentry has got me all introspective...moreMy recent tangle with mice and subsequent precarious dancing on that fine line between sanitary home and genuine rodentry has got me all introspective about invasive species.
Rodents, in particular, are funny. In pet stores, they’re pretty cute, but when they scurry across your kitchen counters and eat holes in the plastic bag surrounding your loaf of sandwich bread, they become some kind of otherworldly menace bent on spreading disease and filth. Nevermind that the pet store mouse and the common house mouse are the same creature.
When I learned of our possible infestation, I felt helpless. Unlike other folks, I don’t have a visceral dislike of the creatures. In fact, if they didn’t have that nasty habit of shitting all over everything, I’d probably let them stay. But I’m in the minority there. During my online search for nonlethal mouse traps, I discovered that the majority of people would rather have the furry little brutes dead. I don’t think I found one live capture trap that didn’t include instructions for making it lethal. It’s interesting.
What is it about rodents that makes them so unsympathetic? Like puppies, they are cute. Like cats, they care for their young. Like me, they didn’t choose to be born. They’ve committed no crime greater than existence, which everyone reading this is guilty of.
When the Killing’s Done brought this issue to light in a unique way. In the story, we meet two environmentalists. One is a PETA type, and the other is a biological conservationist; one thinks that no animals should ever be killed, and the other thinks that in order to save the majority, sometimes you have to break some fucking eggs. They come to loggerheads over an island that is infested with invasive rats. Should they stay or should they go?
I don’t know that it’s possible for a writer to make similar (yet highly polarized) ideals more convoluted, contradictory, and insightful than Boyle has with this novel. Throughout the text, I found myself on the side of the rat-killing scientist. Her logic made more sense to me. The PETA guy was all heart, with just the slightest amount of input from his brain. By the end, though, I had no idea what was right. All the best intentions, it seems, can (and likely have) been foiled by humankind’s sticky little fingerprints all over the face of this planet.
Rodents thrive because of us. It is our fault. Yet, rather than looking to that root cause, we seek to control them. Instead of poisoning ourselves, we poison our symptoms. We have a distinctly symbiotic relationship with mice and rats and the more effective way to treat for them would be to create human-sized traps for us to stick our own necks into.
But, then again, it is not our fault we’re here. It’s almost like there’s no clear answer, isn’t it? (less)
The act of reading Mossflower is perhaps the closest one can come consciously entering a state of deja vu. It’s like watching The Texas Chainsaw Massa...moreThe act of reading Mossflower is perhaps the closest one can come consciously entering a state of deja vu. It’s like watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 or D2: The Mighty Ducks- you know you’ve experienced this all before, but, for some reason, you find yourself unable to avert your eyes.
I toyed with the idea of just reposting my recent Redwall review in an overly-subtle attempt at saying as much, but ultimately decided against it. You’re welcome.
Because it’s kind of a shitty thing to do. People pay for this stuff. Does a creator of consumable content not have the obligation to provide their fans with something new? Or is it perfectly acceptable to take that safest of roads carved out by the likes of stupid television shows and mainstream musicians? Because I take the time and effort to read books, I expect more of them. Perhaps this is my fault.
It can be argued, I suppose, that Mossflower is the second installment of a children’s series. Children do enjoy repetition, as evidenced by the months I spent involuntarily watching Curious George cartoons. But can they not just read the same book over? Does that childhood desire to re-experience that which has previously brought joy really necessitate a separate book? I don’t think so. I think it’s a lazy attempt by publishers to sell the same shit over again to a consumer base that doesn’t know any better.
As far as the Redwall mythology goes, Mossflower does contribute some valuable details, namely the origins of Martin the Warrior. Unfortunately, it seems that there’s another whole book dedicated to Martin, appropriately titled Martin the Warrior. This does not bode well for my enjoyment of the series.
Before reading this, one should take account of who Craig Mullaney is: a high-ranking advisor in Barack Obama’s national security staff. While this re...moreBefore reading this, one should take account of who Craig Mullaney is: a high-ranking advisor in Barack Obama’s national security staff. While this recommends him as a military professional, it doesn’t bode well for his memoir. Far from being a tell-all about Army training and serving in a war zone, this sterile, boring shit is an inoffensive political autobiography that should only be read by the author’s grandmother or future employers. It is, in essence, a 400 page resume.
The book’s strengths lie in the detailed descriptions of the various aspects of training. I know a great deal more about the types of things required of elite soldiers than I did when I started. Of course, that part is thoroughly whitewashed, too. Mullaney was born for this stuff. He writes a lot about the difficulty of what he has to do, but, in the end, it’s very “be all you can be” motivational shit. Hell, maybe that’s how it is. But I don’t trust him to represent the view of the average soldier. He comes from a place of privilege and that’s evident in the subtext of every chapter.
Because if Mullaney’s story is at all typical, the U.S. Army needs to get the shit audited out of it. The guy graduated from West Point and enlisted, where he received all manner of specialist training. His military prowess was years in the making. When he is finally deployed, he spends ten months in Afghanistan. He accidentally attacks some civilian goat herders and sees a couple of firefights. He’s successful in this, of course, because he’s been trained to be a hardcore infantry leader. But when that ten months is up, he’s transferred to a desk job. Because you need to be able to plan an attack on mountain rebels in order to file leave requests. I can’t imagine this is what happens to most soldiers.
I haven’t read many (read: any) other military memoirs, but I can’t imagine that this one is in the top thousand. It was decently written and efficiently painted the picture Mullaney was working toward, but that picture is about as interesting as a Thomas Kinkade. (less)
I have always been terrible at taking notes. I don’t often do it, and, when I do, my scrawlings typically consist of whatever a speaker or text says v...moreI have always been terrible at taking notes. I don’t often do it, and, when I do, my scrawlings typically consist of whatever a speaker or text says verbatim. Once my notes are completed, they’re never consulted again. Because of this, I’ve never shown any aptitude for language acquisition, science, math, or history.
This “problem” (if it can be called that) has bled into my recreational reading. When I was in high school, I had a teacher (and another in college) who was a strong advocate for writing in books. It was wonderful to read a book a decade after your first encounter with it and find, in your own hand, all manner of intimate thoughts and great passages already noted. It’s like a time capsule for your intellectual development.
My problem with with this became immediately apparent. I was a snarky asshole. Nothing gave me greater pleasure than making fun of others. This obvious strength of character led me to fear what other people would think if they read my notes and thought me an idiot. I never kept a journal for the same reason. I have a strong desire to avoid embarrassment at all costs.
Sometimes these anxiety issues seem silly. After all, isn’t it great to be able to laugh at the person you used to be? How silly and serious you were?
I reckon the answer is “yes.” If you’ve matured. Me, though? I’m still a snarky asshole. I still like making fun of other people for just about anything.
My copy of A Girl Named Zippy had exactly three annotations. They are as follows:
“It is an amazing moment,” p. 268 (underlined quote)
“So my best friend got the one thing I wanted most,” p. 274 (underlined quote)
“Middle class struggling to make ends me [sic]” p.282 (note written in margin)
What makes these annotations interesting is the fact that they (and the passages they are excerpted from) were perhaps the blandest part of a vanilla book. These parts were not funny, not terribly inspirational, and not remotely revelatory unless you happen to be an amoeba or a discarded Skittle. That last one (the only note made in the book) was the highpoint of the annotations, as it was written in response to one of the discussion questions provided in the back of the book. It read:
“15. Where [sic] the Jarvises poor?”
I like this question because it includes the single typographical error in the entire manuscript. I also like this question because it is so mind-numbingly superficial, like something a kindergarten teacher might pose to her students after a reading of “A Christmas Carol” as adapted into a picture book. It was as if the reader, pen at the ready, was trying his/her hardest to be a diligent book club member and develop a coherent thought on the question, only to realize how stupid the process was and abandon it midway through. Or perhaps that probing question was beyond the respondent's abilities?
Maybe it’s a bit too harsh to judge the book’s previous reader for that bullshit. Perhaps the author should be blamed for writing such an inoffensive and accessible memoir. Perhaps the publisher should be blamed for deciding that the book should be marketed toward book clubs, complete with discussion questions. Or maybe fault belongs with librarians and booksellers who opt to buy stuff like this because it takes the work out of planning compelling discussions.
Blame will be assigned by majority rule. Please cast your vote in the comments.(less)
I suppose the obvious comparison here is to The Outsiders or Grease or West Side Story or pretty much any story of a couple of social groups at odds w...moreI suppose the obvious comparison here is to The Outsiders or Grease or West Side Story or pretty much any story of a couple of social groups at odds with one another for superficial reasons. It certainly applies here. The Crud Masters, a group of ragtag misfits, are in a constant battle for supremacy with the NOLAs, the guys who are rich and better looking. In that regard, it’s better than The Outsiders, because there’s fucking sea monsters and Transformers.So it’s like The Outsiders meets Mothra vs Godzilla... or maybe Gamera? I don’t know. The point is that it transcends the typical gang war-style story because it’s all jacked on Pop Rocks and methamphetamines.
But what I really want to compare it to is The Lost Boys. Boogers is a sad, lonely kid. He lives in a seaside town where there’s not a whole lot to do. But there’s some weird supernatural shit going on (in this case, sea monsters), in addition to the normal pressures associated with belonging to a marginalized fringe group. So Boogers has to band together with a smelly NOLA girl, a large-breasted bear, and a doughy, spineless waste of flesh in order to make it through the day. At its heart, it’s a story of teen angst. This is some straight Catcher in the Rye shit here.
Which is pretty fucking fantastic. I have often thought that, if it were not for sodomizing the baby Jesus or stabbing assholes in their assholes, bizarro fiction would be perfect for teens. Successful young adult fiction has to keep its audience in mind while not showing its cards. The Crud Masters comes as close to pure YA as I’ve seen. It’s definitely got the appeal. It’s the sort of YA book that could be assigned in remedial school English classes for kids who set fire to their pets. It’s weird and accessible, with just the right amount of robots, sex, and profanity to keep the interest of a fifteen-year-old boy who might not otherwise come near a novel that addresses these themes.
It’s a classic in a brand new trench coat, standing at the bus stop and flashing you its cock.(less)
It’s suddenly occurring to me that the majority of the film-adaptations I’ve seen in the theater have been in that borderline grindhouse at the mall w...moreIt’s suddenly occurring to me that the majority of the film-adaptations I’ve seen in the theater have been in that borderline grindhouse at the mall where the floors are sticky with spilled Diet Coke and semen and the tickets cost just a buck.
As per usual, I saw Coraline by myself when it was raining. I went to the mall for some reason and decided to stay for the movie. Ah, those were the days.
I went in hoping that it would be something along the lines of The Nightmare Before Christmas, only creepier. From the poster I only glanced at, I thought it was a Tim Burton movie. When I realized it wasn’t, I grumbled. But I was grumbling to myself in an empty theater and it was annoying, so I stopped. I remember the movie being pretty much what I’d hoped. There were certainly some fairly scary parts and the whole thing about the otherworldly characters having buttons for eyes came across as very dark, indeed. There was a Wonderland kind of feel to the film, a degree of whimsy that rounded off the rough edges of borderline horror. It was a good experience. I’ve spent a dollar on worse things.
After seeing the movie, I wanted to read the book, but the library only carried the graphic novel version. At that time, I didn’t read graphic novels, so I just forgot about it.
Fast-forward some years and all of a sudden I have a three-year-old daughter and a miraculous device that allows me to, with just a few button presses, call entire books from the ether that is the Internet. We read Coraline as a bedtime story.
The kid liked it more than I did, so much that she wanted to read The Graveyard Book soon after. But for me, the experience was less rewarding.
This is one of those few cases where the movie was just better than the book. What Gaiman tried to do with Coraline is ambitious. The scenes in the book are competently written, but just better suited to a visual medium. It’s one thing to say that the Other Mother has buttons for eyes, but it’s entirely another to see those eyes in action. After the really polished and rich animation of the movie, the text felt sadly flat. It was like a doodle of a flower on the back of a telephone bill, where the movie was like the flower itself. (less)
My initial plan was write something goofy about this book, because pretty much everyone has read it. But then I got to thinking. For all of the fancy...moreMy initial plan was write something goofy about this book, because pretty much everyone has read it. But then I got to thinking. For all of the fancy awards Steinbeck won for the goddamned thing, it hasn’t seemed to do a whole lot of good. Perhaps California is a little more welcoming to tourists from Oklahoma these days, but the most elemental problems are still out in the open.
Today, I cut across a Home Depot parking lot in inner-city Phoenix to get a better path into traffic. On my way, I was waved at by a number of Hispanic men looking for work. Men whose home country offered them no chance at a decent life. Men who heard of better opportunities, of work, on the other side of that barbed wire fence. But what do these people find when they get here?
And this asshole:
And a plethora of other assholes espousing the same bullshit.
How is the term “wetback” all that different from “Okie”? How is the Mexican-American dialect all that different from that of the Panhandle? How are Arpaio’s raids all that different from the raids of the squatter camps? How can this shit exist when Steinbeck has been taught in virtually every high school in America for decades?
When I was trying to be funny, I was going to tie this all in to Mumford & Sons’ “Dust Bowl Dance.” Lovely song. But now I just feel angry at the injustice of it all. So fuck it. We'll go with this one instead. (less)
There are lots of bizarro books that are referred to as the literary equivalent to a B-Movie. Until I finished Gigantic Death Worm, I hadn't realized...moreThere are lots of bizarro books that are referred to as the literary equivalent to a B-Movie. Until I finished Gigantic Death Worm, I hadn't realized how wrong that idea is. The stories might be outlandish and filled to the brim with sex and violence, but they typically miss some integral pieces.
That’s not meant as a criticism. Bizarro novels are intended to be bizarro novels, not movies. The books work like books. There is a certain degree of literariness to them. Vince Kramer’s novella, though, is probably the closest thing to a midnight movie that literature has ever produced- more so than even the odd horror screenplay that finds publication.
There is a certain sense of freedom when a novice filmmaker heads out into the woods with a group of friends, a video camera, and no money. The individual elements that make up the movie are, more often than not, less successful than they would be with adequate funding. But. The resulting creation is often free from the binds of marketability. If a character dies in the opening scenes, but is needed to cameo in the film’s finale, so be it. Did an arm get cut off of a character who needs to operate a stick shift? Bam- maiming never happened. Does a guy need to protect himself from wolf-spitting bears? Cue samurai sword.
Vince Kramer wrote the book he wanted to write. This is the sort of work that is born from boredom. Why do so many books have to be mediocre? Why let the novel suffer just so that it can remain within established conventions? Kramer could have made all sorts of boring choices, but he didn’t make one of them. Every time he was posed with a plot development dilemma, you can tell that he just ate some crack rocks, snorted a few lines of pure caffeine, and soldiered the fuck on. That is why the Mayans just blew each other all day. That is why Wormhead Girl has a worm head. That is why the ninjas are Mexican. That is why Phoenix gets completely fucking destroyed. Because fuck Phoenix.
This book was fucking amazing. I laughed myself stupid while compulsively turning its pages. It truly is a labor of love. It lacks anything resembling pretentiousness. If you’re sick of books, as I tend to get from time to time, this one will be a game changer. If you’re not to that point yet, buy it and keep it for an emergency, packed lovingly away with your fire extinguisher, bottled water, and cyanide pills.(less)
Animal behavior? Sure. But not anthropomorphic dog thoughts. Hell, I’d rather watch a full day of the Dog W...moreI don’t like fictional books about animals.
Animal behavior? Sure. But not anthropomorphic dog thoughts. Hell, I’d rather watch a full day of the Dog Whisperer than read this shit again.
That is, of course, not to say the book is without merit. It is a classic, after all. It has withstood the test of a little bit of time. Almost no time at all in the grand scheme of things. Barely a moment if you really think about it.
But the writing is certainly capable. It is there. There are words and they are placed in close proximity to other words and those arrangements make sense. That is good. It is unfortunate that those words concern the thoughts of a dog, which gives the book more in common with the script for Babe: Pig in the City than anything of real literary value, like, say, The Da Vinci Code.
As far as nature writing is concerned, this is not my cup of tea. I don’t need setting or characters to understand the basic thesis: humans have tamed dogs, but they are still animals. Should that have a spoiler alert attached to it? Shit, I could rewrite the whole book! Ready? GO!
“Humans have tamed dogs, but they are still animals,” the dog thought.
“Hmm. Why am I thinking in English?” the dog wondered silently to himself.
“I am going to find a way under that ice,” the dog decided resolutely. “So that I might drown myself in the river.”
I remember when my dad came back from the mental health center, beaming with pride at his own resourcefulnes...moreThis book was hard as fuck for me to read.
I remember when my dad came back from the mental health center, beaming with pride at his own resourcefulness. He’d tricked them. He’d fooled the doctors into believing he was crazy and had the antipsychotic prescription to prove it. So long as he kept up the act, our financial problems would be over. That easy five hundred dollar disability check would cover our expenses and then some. Our family would have more money than we’d ever had.
I don’t know if you can imagine that, dear reader. Five hundred dollars to cover the living costs of a family of five, one of whom was an infant at the time. Although I was seeing dollar signs with the rest of the crew, I cannot figure it out. Back when I had just one child, I couldn’t make things work on three times that. It helped that they owned the house outright (a gift from the grandparents), but still.
What is even more baffling to me was that my dad, at that time, was knocking back an eighteen pack of Natties each day. While it’s an economical choice, that’s still quite the investment. If the eighteen pack cost a mere $10 (which it doesn’t), that meant that roughly $300 (60%) of our monthly income went toward beer alone. So that leaves $200 per month actually spent on living expenses. I cannot even see how that is possible.
But I digress. That diagnosis my father received? Bipolar disorder bordering on schizophrenia. They couldn’t properly diagnose the latter on account of his being drunk all the time.
This book is about a guy with bipolar disorder. He is successful and motivated, but is subject to the whims of his wild mood swings and increasingly psychotic behavior. The story is told from three points-of-view, each corresponding with a different era of the man’s life: him as a child watching his father suffer from the same disease, him immediately before and during his life’s climax, and him in the aftermath, trying to put it all back together. All of this is delivered in between twelve sessions of shock therapy.
While the bulk of this novel was hard for me, I can trim the profoundly difficult parts down to three:
1. My dad’s mental degradation happened during my teen years. His moods had always been cyclical, but, until I was thirteen or so, I would say he was living with the illness. We never knew what the next day was going to bring. We could come home to our dog having been shot for undisclosed reasons or a shiny new fishing boat in the driveway. It was impossible to tell. The depressions were predictable, but the mania was bad. Because he could be happy-manic or cruel-manic. When he was happy, he was the greatest guy in the world. Everyone wanted to be around him. But when he was feeling cruel (and excited about it), he would hurt, steal, and destroy.
When I was around eight or so, I stopped trusting him. I was the only one in the family who did openly. And I paid the price for it. Until the police took him away when I was seventeen, he paid special attention to me when he was feeling like being an asshole. Because he thought I was an asshole for disliking him.
The scars on my body are nothing compared to the scars in my mind that were reopened when I read about young Greyson dealing with his own dad. He loved the man, adored him. He got excited when his dad would make a frivolous purchase or treat him like a king. But as things got worse, he had to stand up to him. He had to fight. It’s hard to fight a man when you’re just a boy, especially when that man holds the unique, god-like powers a father does. (view spoiler)[ I didn’t take it very well when Greyson’s dad hit his mom. Greyson did what I couldn’t do (physically fight back), and that hurt. This is fiction, after all. It’s all intellectual. Were Greyson’s teenage actions morally right? Should I have attempted to break my own father’s nose? I reckon I wouldn’t be writing this now if I had tried. But thinking about it still flooded me with a nostalgic regret. (hide spoiler)]
2. At some point, Greyson starts drawing the connections between his father and himself. He recognizes that the two of them share a disease. I am constantly evaluating my own actions, comparing them to my dad’s. And I don’t always like what I see. I curse myself and swear to correct them. And I do. But Greyson did the same thing. My dad probably did the same thing (he shared a disease with his father, too).
(view spoiler)[Greyson ultimately forgave his father (at least to some degree) and took care of him. His daughter did the same. Since I shunned my father, am I worthy of the forgiveness my daughters may one day have the ability to give to me? If I fuck up that bad, will the karmic balance prevent me from knowing them? (hide spoiler)]
3. Near the end of his life, in the years prefacing his suicide, my dad received shock therapy as a treatment for his mental disorder. I heard about this from other people, as I no longer associated with him at that point (at the time of his death, it had been a full decade since I’d spoken to him). The sessions took his memory. They took a good deal of his intelligence. They rendered him safe for society. He became a card-carrying member of the at-risk community. According to his mother, he was rendered retarded by the treatments, and no one loved him more than her. I’m glad I never got to see him like that. It’s purely selfish, but that doesn’t change a thing.
This book, though, made me, in some ways, live through that awkwardness I’d successfully avoided in real life. (view spoiler)[I got to see Greyson interact with the daughter he neglected and abandoned. I got to see her futile anger at him, and his earnest attempts to make her like him, having no memory at all of the horrible things he’d done to her. Her character was so easy for me to identify with. And the whole thing was made worse by the fact that she took the road I would not have. I would not have visited my father every weekend. I would not have forgiven him. But she did. And a part of me thinks she’s a better person than I am for it. I can’t call her naive, as I have the children of abusive parents who think they’ve changed and opt to still subject themselves to their manipulations and cruelty. I got to see inside of Greyson’s head. It was safe to be around him. He was not the man who hurt her. She recognized that. I wouldn’t have even chanced it. The feelings that accompany that are not pretty. (hide spoiler)]
Juliann Garey did such an unbelievable job with characterization in this book. I read from the flap that while she doesn’t suffer from bipolar disorder, she heads some organization that deals with it. Ordinarily, this kind of psychological tourism bothers me. I don’t like the masturbatory exercise of trying to get into the head of a mentally ill person. (Turns out I was totally wrong about this.) But I can’t argue with the results. She nailed my experience down to the letter.
I don’t think I would ever recommend this book to anyone. As soon as I finished, I gave it away, just to get it away from me. But that’s all personal, of course. The story’s solid, the writing is superb, and, overall, the book’s a cut above the rest. If you want a better understanding of unchecked bipolar disorder and how it can impact families, look no further.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I love bizarro fiction, but, let’s face it, it’s a huge sausage fest. I can count the number of female authors in the genre on one hand and still have...moreI love bizarro fiction, but, let’s face it, it’s a huge sausage fest. I can count the number of female authors in the genre on one hand and still have room for a couple of finger puppets and a Chinese finger trap. Trashland A Go-Go was the first bizarro I’ve read by a woman- and it delivered.
At its core, the story seems to be a retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Coco is a stripper who dies in a tragic pole accident and is unceremoniously thrown in the trash by her employer. Against all odds, she wakes up and finds herself in a magical world that she first mistakes for the dump. It quickly becomes apparent that is is no ordinary landfill, however. She befriends a fly (a Cheshire Cat of sorts), who is simultaneously annoying and helpful. He guides her through her journey, sees her through her interactions with the denizens of Trashland (oddball characters that make Alice’s Mock Turtle and March Hare seem almost normal), and delivers her unto the Queen.
There is one truly notable difference between Trashland and Alice, though. The most fearsome aspects of Wonderland are never of much concern because Alice knows they are not real. She finds herself torn from her life of logic and reason and thrust into this world where nothing is as it should be. Coco, on the other hand, is no child chasing rabbits in a field. She’s lives in a world that’s kind of unreal, a Liberty City sort of place where she takes her clothes off for a living and is horrifically killed by something as simple as petroleum jelly on a pole. Waking up in an alternate reality on the other side of a dumpster is not that great of a stretch. From the beginning, Coco wastes little time trying to verify the reality of the situation and much more doing what she can to survive.
What we have here is a bizarro story that brilliantly interweaves feminist insights into the natural tropes of the genre. Coco is a strong female lead who is forced to battle other strong females in order to hold on to her place in the social hierarchy. In her real life, it’s an angry coworker; in Trashland, it’s the evil Queen. All of these female characters hold power and it is only through elimination of one another that any of the others can advance. Sit back and think about the implications there for a moment.
As a stripper, Coco (and her homicidal rival) exhibits her power over men with her sexuality. The Queen she eventually meets bends men to her will with the aid of a spore that binds itself to their necks and keeps them loyal. In both worlds, a single woman must hold the power over the group of men in order to stay dominant. This is why both the evil stripper and the Queen want Coco dead. There is not enough room in either world for shared female power. The women want other women out of the way so that they can have the men all to themselves. Not out of some need based in sexuality, but, rather, in a need for power that just isn’t available in any other way.
Coco, however, is the antithesis of this idea. She is catty toward her coworker, but doesn’t do anything bad to her. She’s content to dislike the woman and get on with her life. Likewise, she has no beef with the Queen until the bitch starts some shit. Coco doesn’t want the power the others strive for. For the most part, she simply wants to be. Enticing men, be it for prestige or to fill a gaping void in her self-worth, is of no interest. She’s strong all on her own. She needs no one’s affirmations of this. She’s kind of a bad ass.
As far as feminist images go, there was one I enjoyed above all others. Coco is arrested by the Queen and locked inside of a cell made of dirty diapers. In a show of anti-domesticity, the dead stripper forcibly claws her way out, refusing to be held back by the festering vessels of shit. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.
When all is said and done, Fitzgerald holds her own against the heavy-hitters in the bizarro scene. Her gross outs rival the later challenges in Steve Lowe’s King of the Perverts, and her fantastical world is as lovingly crafted as Cameron Pierce’s Ass Goblins of Auschwitz.(less)
Growing up, my parents had an affinity for the exotic and grotesque. Our yard was always stocked with some bizarre assortment of animals, from cattle...moreGrowing up, my parents had an affinity for the exotic and grotesque. Our yard was always stocked with some bizarre assortment of animals, from cattle to emus to peacocks. Whatever was being given away in the paper would eventually find its way to our house. My dad also liked to kill these things and feed them to us, because it’s fun? I don’t know. But our house was always filled with carcasses and dead things. The pot of simmering liquid on the stove was just as likely to be concealing a coyote skeleton as it was to be hiding potatoes and javelina flesh.
This kind of shit typically throws people for a loop when I tell them about it. But those people have to be the normals. If I try this out on someone who comes from a similar background, forget it. It’s fucking annoying. It comes across like sad bragging. Whenever I hear someone talk about their crazy animals or unconventional parents, I don’t even bother to stifle my yawns. That door swings both ways. People with truly weird childhoods are not interested in the truly weird childhoods of others.
Right out of the shoot, Jenny Lawson was annoying the shit out of me. Not only was she talking about her wacky, critter-filled childhood, she was also trying way too hard. The quirky footnotes and conversational asides to her editor did nothing but intensify my dislike of what I was reading. It made me want to stomp on the book until it died. I began to question my own literary taste. I couldn’t even remember how this book found me. I had no idea who Jenny Lawson was.
I was disgruntled.
But I kept going and, at some point, she started to win me over. It was the serious stuff, I think. The miscarriages and dead pets. She handled some truly awful shit with grace and reverence, even with a bit of gallows humor. I appreciated it. By the time the book was done, I genuinely liked her. Even though she’s a professional blogger and I disagree with her very existence.
It wasn’t bad. But everyone who gave it four or more stars is a lying asshole.
It is the dream of every aspiring writer to be targeted with legal action by a major American whiskey company.
As such, when Jack Daniels sent him a c...moreIt is the dream of every aspiring writer to be targeted with legal action by a major American whiskey company.
As such, when Jack Daniels sent him a cease-and-desist order over the cover of this book, Patrick Wensink made indie publishing history. What’s especially unique is that it’s probably the most kindly worded document of its kind in the entire history of the world. For a brief time, various media entities picked up the story and tossed it around, sending Wensink into the limelight.
Which is a good thing for bizarro. Broken Piano for President is about as good an introduction to the genre as one could wish for. It is accessible, well-written (reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Moore) and really fucking entertaining. It’s about a guy who gets blackout drunk and finds himself in the midst of a fast food burger war. He’s completely clueless, but, somehow, manages to entomb himself in burger politics.
There’s just something about bizarro and burgers, I guess. Back in 2006, Carlton Mellick’s book Satan Burger was the subject of controversy when a man in Alaska was arrested for giving a copy of the book to a minor. That’s the key, bizarro writers- write about burgers and the books will sell themselves.(less)
“Hold me closer tiny dancer Count the headlights on the highway Lay me down in sheets of linen you had a busy day today.” --Elton John
As hard as love is,...more“Hold me closer tiny dancer Count the headlights on the highway Lay me down in sheets of linen you had a busy day today.” --Elton John
As hard as love is, relationships are harder. In today’s day and age, it can be hard for a man to express his love in a union, which, more often than not, leads to confusion, arguments, and bickering. No one wants to come home at the end of the day to a loveless, tepid partnership with a complete stranger. Prostitutes are cheaper and less judgmental.
But, as we all know, sex with hookers, good though it may be, leads to low self-esteem and social diseases. What’s more, families can suffer from the perceived infidelity that comes with soliciting the services of a lady of the evening. And that’s not even mentioning the jail time. In the long run, it seems that the best approach to a happy love life is to approach one’s relationship as Bob Villa would- with a power saw and a hammer.
Remember that the small things count. Your spouse will easily be won over by small gifts that show you care. Her favorite chocolate bar, a single flower, and filling up the gas tank in her car are all low-cost, minimal-effort things you can give her to show her you care. Heck, in the case of the chocolate bar, maybe she’ll even give you some!
Remind her of all your good times together. Can you pull up obscure details from your wedding day? How about the birthday picnic when it rained? If you can, great. If not, make something up! She’ll follow right along to make it look like she didn’t forget such a nice memory. The key is to keep it vague. That way you won’t have to waste time trying to figure out if it was actually your wife you’re remembering! She’ll never question you if you remark on her beauty that spring in the city, even if that particular beauty belonged to that Puerto Rican transvestite!
Tell her how amazing she is. It’s what she wants to hear. It’s hard raising kids, balancing a career, and still finding time to look nice. Cut her some slack. If she’s cranky, give her a foot rub!
If all that fails, pull out the ace up your sleeve: the Alligator Fuckhouse. Invite your lady to the bedroom for an apology massage. When you’ve got her all relaxed and peaceful, clamp your pearly whites down on her neck and flip the bitch over. You’ll need to hold her limbs down if you don’t want the shit knocked out of you. Once you’ve completed the death roll, your marriage will be saved. Just be careful not to break the skin.
Keep in mind that not all relationships were built to last. Some were made like a 1985 Yugo, out of nothing but booze, bad decisions, and ugly yellow paint. In cases like those, just cut your losses. There are, as they say, other fish in the sea. But, before you go, be sure to test out the Abe Lincoln, the Dirty Sanchez, and the Donkey Punch on the old lady before you bring ‘em to the singles scene. They don’t call it assault for nothing.(less)