I never would have thought a book about a vegetable would be so entertaining, but here we are. Heather Arndt-Anderson's history of chillies is not onlI never would have thought a book about a vegetable would be so entertaining, but here we are. Heather Arndt-Anderson's history of chillies is not only comprehensive and authoritative, but full of verve and wit and funny anecdotes. More than anything, the reader is reminded that our modern tastes do not come from nothing, that they are painstakingly forged by the trial and error of the centuries. And what a funny thing culinary history is, that one tiny plant from one small corner of Meso-America could turn the entire world's tastebuds upside down....more
The cliché would be to say that this book is about dysfunctional relationships, but it's really not. It's about people doing the best they can with thThe cliché would be to say that this book is about dysfunctional relationships, but it's really not. It's about people doing the best they can with the materials around them. Darkly funny, heart-breaking, and full of insight into the deflating truth of human nature, Drake creates a mosaic out of scenes of the lives of Vanessa and Lucy, two sisters living in pre-Whole Foods Portland. It's a place where people don't report their mother's death in order to keep her reverse-mortgage alive, in a sort of real estate-based afterlife. Where people are permanently branded by their shitty jobs via deep-fryer. And where the guy living in your driveway may or may not carry a sexually transmitted demon. This is an incredibly funny book with moments of breathtaking insight. A book which you will hate yourself for putting down. A reminder that there really are no such thing as dysfunctional relationships. Everyone we've invited into our lives is there for a reason, sometimes a regrettable one, but it is the collage of these relationships that defines a life. In the end, all human relationships are a work of junk art. ...more
A truly disturbing collection of vignettes, deftly combines themes of Japanese folklore with an undertone of modern alienation. Highly recommended forA truly disturbing collection of vignettes, deftly combines themes of Japanese folklore with an undertone of modern alienation. Highly recommended for anyone who likes to lie awake at night thinking about something you read six hours earlier....more
I suppose I should call it a "romp" or a "laugh-out-loud" something, but really Broken Homes and Gardens is a funny, engaging tale of how relationshipI suppose I should call it a "romp" or a "laugh-out-loud" something, but really Broken Homes and Gardens is a funny, engaging tale of how relationships are mostly a matter of good timing....more
A brilliant, beautifully rendered meditation on the precious insignificance of human life. Told in a series of intercut images of the same place stretA brilliant, beautifully rendered meditation on the precious insignificance of human life. Told in a series of intercut images of the same place stretching from the beginning of the Earth, to the fleeting moments of everyday life that have occurred there, and into the distant future, Here is an exploration of storytelling as a byproduct of time and space. There really is nothing else like it....more
It feels strange to only give four stars to a compendium that includes Ghost World, Like a Weed, Joe, and Blue Italian Shit, but some of the essays weIt feels strange to only give four stars to a compendium that includes Ghost World, Like a Weed, Joe, and Blue Italian Shit, but some of the essays were needlessly exhaustive (don't know if I need a line-by-line analysis of the dialogue in Ghost World) and I found myself skipping Clowes' obscure commercial artwork, when it felt like filler. Still, Clowes is a genius, and ultimately this book works as a sort of Criterion Collection DVD of many of his best pieces. ...more
A good primer on the cracks in the foundation that inform our dysfunctional relationship to the Middle East today.
Aside from a cute overture which teA good primer on the cracks in the foundation that inform our dysfunctional relationship to the Middle East today.
Aside from a cute overture which tells the Epic of Gilgamesh using quotes from George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, Best of Enemies focuses on three events: the war against the Barbary Pirates (the first war the US ever fought as an honest-to-God nation), the defense-for-oil deal between the US and Saudi Arabia (the only nation where the ruling family is actually in the country's name), and the 1953 coup engineered by the CIA to overthrow a democratically elected government and install the Shah as absolute ruler.
While countries like Britain and France paid the Barbary Pirates not to molest their shipping, President Jefferson chose war over tribute, which may be the last time the US did anything in the Middle East on principle. The war was far more expensive than the protection money, but it did ultimately result in a treaty that gave US all kinds of special privileges when sailing through their waters. But this was the beginning of the end for the Barbary Pirates, as soon everybody else at the table wanted what the US was having, and nobody saw the point in paying tribute to the Emir of Tripoli any more. This was a victory for the maritime powers of Europe and North America, but it would lead to the unraveling of the Ottoman Empire, and opened not only the doors to commerce, but to the eventual colonization of the Middle East.
After World War I and the defeat of the Ottomans, much of their empire was carved up into "Protectorates" which are basically colonies, but with an as-of-yet-unnamed expiration date. During World War II (the original war for oil, at least as a strategic necessity), the US realized that if it was going to win the war, and secure its future afterward, this would require a cheap and dependable supply of oil. Luckily, Saudi Arabia was equally nervous about all these British and German armies chasing each other around the other former territories of the Ottoman Empire like kids on a playground. The Saudis felt like a nice plump chicken made of oil and assumed (not without reason), that whoever won would help themselves to the chicken dinner. In exchange for guaranteeing their independence, the Saudis would give the US as much oil as they could drink for pennies on the barrel.
World War II had a happy ending for the US, though it was a short-lived one, for no sooner had that war ended than the US found itself facing off against the Soviet Union in a popularity contest, the prize of which was world domination. The US and Britain were both determined to keep other nations from getting too flirty with the Soviet Union, especially those countries which had oil. So when Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossaddegh began nationalizing Iran's oil industry, which they saw as taking back their flowers to give them to the other girl, the CIA and MI6 conspired to stage a coup to impose the rule of the Shah, who would be so grateful that he would make his country a playground for western oil companies and discreetly get rid of anyone who thought socialism might be a good idea.
The book ends abruptly in 1953 without really examining the lessons to be learned from these American adventures in the Occident, but if I might take a stab at what awaits us in the next volume, I might suggest this: The Iranian Revolution of 1979, Two wars in Iraq, the rise of Al Qaeda, and the painful lesson that whether standing up to shakedown artists in Tripoli, horse-trading with Saudis, or flexing imperial might over Iran, interference comes with consequences, most of which are nasty and unpredictable....more
Mister Wonderful is about two middle-aged people slowly laying their cards on the table over the course of a blind date. The story is told through theMister Wonderful is about two middle-aged people slowly laying their cards on the table over the course of a blind date. The story is told through the eyes of Marshal, and in addition to their conversation, we are treated to a highly neurotic play-by-play breakdown of the date via Marshal’s internal monologue, which often obscures their speech bubbles as a visual metaphor for how self-consciousness impairs our ability to listen and genuinely react to other people. Aside from a few ill-advised attempts by Marshal to convince himself to have a little “game,” he excoriates himself for how terrible he thinks he’s doing on this date, and how little worth he holds as a man. Marshal’s secret thoughts provide the book with many of its most brutal, heart-breaking, and darkly funny moments. At one point, he even breaks down and asks himself, “Jesus, must I be self-deprecating even in my interior monologue?”
These moments are leavened by his fantasies of how he wished the date were going (these scenes are readily identifiable by the fact that his fantasies all seem to entail the presence of bagels), and his really quite sweet daydreams of him and Natalie meeting as children, or being together someday on his deathbed.
Though we aren’t privy to Natalie’s thoughts the way we are Marshal’s, we come to learn that they are both the products of disastrous past loves and like Marshal, Natalie seems to know exactly where her shortcomings are kept. But while self-honesty is endearing, vulnerability is what is requires for love, and it is only when they drop the facade of being on a date and simply become two people talking about their lives that we get the feeling that they may belong together. To people who have lived long enough to have been scarred by life and shattered by love, finding “Mister Wonderful” is something of a trite fantasy. Our need is for people whose damage is compatible with our own....more
Okay, this book fucking blew me away and here's why:
It is unapologetically transgressive, honest, and unafraid to confront the bullshit of received wiOkay, this book fucking blew me away and here's why:
It is unapologetically transgressive, honest, and unafraid to confront the bullshit of received wisdom with the raw truth. Every single page sparkles not only with wit, but power, and forces us to hear the story of someone hitherto conveniently ignored. This is precisely the sort of punk agitation that keeps literature relevant. ...more