**spoiler alert** Let me start out by setting something straight. For the record: I really love Ready Player One. This in spite of the fact that I typ**spoiler alert** Let me start out by setting something straight. For the record: I really love Ready Player One. This in spite of the fact that I typically go for the same navel-gazing fare that makes bookish hipsters swoon. I don't play videogames. I grew up in the 80s, but hell if I know much about retro gaming culture. Yet there's something irresistible about Cline's exuberant, dungeon-masterly hero quest, and I loved it til the bitter end.
But Ernest Cline: what the f***? In the book's last 50 pages, the four characters who've known each other virtually in the OASIS finally meet each other IRL. We learn that Art3mis is beautiful although insecure. Shoto is the token Asian non-character whose token Asian buddy gets rubbed out halfway through. Or is that Daito? Nevermind, doesn't matter.
And then there's Aech. Let's revisit the scene:
"A heavy set African American girl sat in the RV's driver seat, clutching the wheel tightly and staring straight ahead. She was about my age, with short, kinky hair and chocolate colored skin that appeared iridescent in the soft glow of the dashboard indicators. She was wearing a vintage Rush 2112 concert T-shirt, and the numbers were warped around her large bosom."
OK, so she's got big breasts. Whatever. Fast forward to Wade's reaction:
"A wave of emotion swept over me. Shock gave way to a sense of betrayal. How could he -- she -- deceive me all these years? I felt my face flush with embarrassment as I remembered all of the adolescent intimacies I'd shared with Aech. A person I'd trusted implicitly. Someone I thought I knew."
Aech has clearly crossed a line for Wade, who lives within a privileged framework that gender and race are fundamental aspects of personhood, and that to perform a gender or race other than those you were assigned at birth is tantamount to betrayal. How convenient for Wade, who just happened to be assigned "white male" in the being born lottery.
But oh my god, this is the f***ing virtual OASIS! With wizards and cat people and stuff! Haptic suits!! Let's remember that Shoto and Daito look nothing like their avatars, but no big deal. Meanwhile, Wade's panties are in a monumental twist just because his best friend is missing a certain manly appendage and tweaked her RGB.
Wade defines and inscribes Aech with the attributes "fat" "black" "lesbian" "chick" because he's invested in the privileged heteronormative assumption that it's "regular" to be a skinny white straight dude. Thanks, Robinson Crusoe. Meanwhile, Aech represents all that is opposite or "other" -- the transient dark enigma that's somehow subverted the IOI's panoptic gaze.
But then Wade decides he's cool with it. 'It's OK dudes, I've got African American friends.' Ultimately, Wade has an enlightened epiphany that allows him to understand why Aech would want to perform white maleness in a Virtual. F***ing. Reality:
"In [Aech's mother's] opinion, the OASIS was the best thing that had ever happened to women and people of color. From the very start, she had used a male white avatar to conduct all of her online business, because of the marked difference it made in how she was treated and the opportunities she was given."
Oh, really. Because at the end of the day, we'd all just be so lucky to pass as straight white men. Nevermind black power, second wave feminism, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.... the practice of radical subjectivity. Nope, Wade's so right: we'd rather just assimilate and pretend we're all bros. Bitch, please. ...more
In the opening pages of Absurdistan, Misha tells us a little about his favorite hobby:
"Alyosha-Bob and I have an interesting hobby that we indulge whe
In the opening pages of Absurdistan, Misha tells us a little about his favorite hobby:
"Alyosha-Bob and I have an interesting hobby that we indulge whenever possible. We think of ourselves as the Gentlemen Who Like to Rap. Our oeuvre stretches from the old-school jams of Ice Cube, Ice-T, and Public Enemy to the sensuous contemporary rhythms of ghetto tech, a hybrid of Miami bass, Chicago ghetto tracks, and Detroit electronica. The modern reader may be familiar with "Ass-N-Titties" by DJ Assault, perhaps the seminal work of the genre."
In honor of the Gentlemen Who Like to Rap, I put together this little hip-hop mix that I think they would enjoy. To stay true to Misha and Alyosha-Bob's tastes, I disciplined myself to stay away from political and conscious raps and instead piled on the ghetto tech. "Ass-N-Titties," of course, is on the mix. And: plenty of old-school.
Track List (* = mentioned in the book): 1. Salt-n-Pepa: "I Like to Party" 2. Lil' Kim: "Big Momma Thang" 3. Mr. FReDeRiCK: "Dick Work"* 4. Notorious B.I.G.: "One More Chance" 5. Ol' Dirty Bastard: "Got Your Money" 6. DJ Assault: "Ass-N-Titties"* 7. Clipse: "Dirty Money" 8. Ice Cube: "Look Who's Burnin'" * 9. DJ Funk: "Every Freakin Night" 10. Ice-T: "What About Sex?" * 11. Tupac: "What'z Ya Phone No." 12. LL Cool J: "Back Seat" 13. Boogie Down Productions: "Super Ho" 14. Peaches: "Set It Off" 15. Eric B. and Rakim: "Paid In Full" 16. Nas: "N.Y. State of Mind" 17. Notorious B.I.G.: "Juicy" 18. Boris S.: "Don't You Wanna Pussy Ride" ...more
I was excited to read The Sugar Frosted Nutsack mainly because it has a naughty title, and secondly because I read a giddy mainstream review that descI was excited to read The Sugar Frosted Nutsack mainly because it has a naughty title, and secondly because I read a giddy mainstream review that described it as "gun-to-the-head comedy delivered with a stratospheric I.Q." But after giving it the old college try, I’m afraid I can only partly agree (… get it?). The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is a Greek epic / pop culture mashup that follows unemployed butcher Ike Karton on his misadventures with mischievous gods who’ve just gotten back from a cray-cray spring break à la Jersey Shore. I think the target audience for this book is probably edgy classics scholars in tweed jackets (love you guys!) who are like "Shut UP oh no he DIDN'T!" when Leyner jams a pop-culture reference right up against something more erudite. For me, this exuberant geekery and word play eclipsed the other things I tend to like about books....more
There are two kinds of readers: those who are devoted Jon Ronson fangirls-and-boys, and those who haven’t heard of Jon Ronson yet. Friends, I presentThere are two kinds of readers: those who are devoted Jon Ronson fangirls-and-boys, and those who haven’t heard of Jon Ronson yet. Friends, I present Jon Ronson: a bespectacled British journalist who writes thoughtful long-form journalism about quirky fringe phenomena like telepathy, aliens, and psychopaths. He was first introduced to an American audience on the radio show This American Life, and he’s got a knack for the sort of stuff that makes fans of that show swoon — sniffing out the peculiar in everyday life, getting to the heart with equal parts empathy and wit, and drawing wry conclusions about modern life. Lost at Sea is his collection of haunting and hilarious shorter pieces from the past decade, including stories about Insane Clown Posse, James Bond, Stanley Kubrick, robots, and too many other bizarre and wonderful things to name. Ronson is a fabulous narrator of his own work, and my like for Lost at Sea blossomed into full-blown love when I switched from the print to the audio.
Footnote: the audio is worth it simply for the pleasure of hearing Jon Ronson read Insane Clown Posse lyrics in a dry British accent, and the chapters were the perfect length for commuting and exercise stints.
Some book clubs plan their reading list and meeting schedule a year in advance. Friends, that is not my book club. We’re what I’d like to call "charmiSome book clubs plan their reading list and meeting schedule a year in advance. Friends, that is not my book club. We’re what I’d like to call "charmingly" disorganized; we often don’t know when or where we’re going to meet until the day before.
So when we spontaneously decided to meet at the Taproom this Tuesday to talk about Michel Faber’s Under the Skin , I knew I had to get reading… fast. Because books about Scottish alien cannibal women do not lend themselves well to spoilers.
You guys, Under the Skin is the most fun I've had reading since Gone Girl in June. Part morality tale, part horror story, and part dystopian sci-fi, it's a lightning-paced read with a serious literary backbone, featuring an embattled, tough-as-nails heroine. Better yet, it taps into pop-culture's beloved hitchhiking motif, but in totally new and unexpected ways. I promise you'll want to hitchhike even less after reading this book.
Although I don’t typically read horror or sci-fi, I loved Under the Skin. It’s a genre-bending tale in the vein of some of the best science fiction classics out there: 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451; the genre is such a great vehicle for exploring those big juicy human questions, and Faber writes with such economy and control. And if you’ve ever been in a book club, you’re hip to the fact that they’re fabulous for getting you to pick up stuff you might not have read on your own.
You might already know Michel Faber as the writer behind the awesome historical mini series The Crimson Petal and the White. But he’s about to enter pop-culture consciousness in another big way — Scarlett Johansson is slated to take the screen as the leading lady in the film adaptation of Under the Skin, due out next month. If you want to read the book first, here’s a tip — the audio version is worth it for the Scottish accents alone....more
Sam Pink first caught my attention when his publisher launched an unusual promotion for his book Rontel this Valentine’s Day: "Order Sam Pink’s new eBSam Pink first caught my attention when his publisher launched an unusual promotion for his book Rontel this Valentine’s Day: "Order Sam Pink’s new eBook and he’ll sext you on February 14!" I’m not saying whether Sam Pink sexted me or not, but I will say that I totally loved this book. Its meandering narrative follows a 28-year-old protagonist as he wanders the streets of Chicago desperately trying to hate everything, only to be thwarted by cute things like cats and dancing babies. It’s a tiny little novel that yearns to uncover what it means to be a "real man" in 2013, and I imagine it's what Charles Bukowski and Albert Camus would've written had they teamed up and been like, "Hey, let’s write a comedy together!" Sam Pink also has an incredible eye and ear for the streets of Chicago, and he knows how to turn out a damned funny product review, too: "We all know paper towels are a whiz in the kitchen. But did you ever think they’d be so great to dry yourself off? I say — beep beep — go ahead."...more
If you believe Scott McClanahan (and you really shouldn’t), he spent his childhood in rural West Virginia pouring six packs of beer down his uncle’s fIf you believe Scott McClanahan (and you really shouldn’t), he spent his childhood in rural West Virginia pouring six packs of beer down his uncle’s feeding tube and dodging his formidable grandmother Ruby at neighborhood funerals. McClanahan is a quintessential unreliable narrator, and his loose first person account of his Appalachian kin sprawls out over 192 pages peppered with tall tales and half truths that, taken together, make up a tender portrait of strange love and angsty youth. For such an experimental little book, Crapalachia is also very funny and readable. I enjoyed the 4 hours I spent with Grandma Ruby, Uncle Nathan, and the rest of the West Virginia clan — including (or maybe even especially) his neurotic neighbor Bill who collects troll dolls and crotchless panties. McClanahan is an exciting new voice in the growing canon of kickass Southern writers....more
Underworld is great, no arguing there. DeLillo is an American master. This just isn't the right time for me to read & love this right now, you knoUnderworld is great, no arguing there. DeLillo is an American master. This just isn't the right time for me to read & love this right now, you know how it goes. We'll meet again, Underworld....more
Just last week I raved about The Age of Miracles on audio being the best thing that ever happened to me, and now: THIS. If you like Russian humor, eggJust last week I raved about The Age of Miracles on audio being the best thing that ever happened to me, and now: THIS. If you like Russian humor, eggs, war stories, Hellboy and Game of Thrones, and have never listened to an audiobook before, you should probably lose your audio virginity to The City of Thieves by David Benioff, read by Ron Flipping Perlman.
It's a perfect book narrated by the perfect reader. Benioff, who is the co-creator of Game of Thrones on HBO, perfects the ratio of pathos, drama, comedy, dialogue and gore. The City of Thieves is a buddy comedy, love story, World War II epic and Russian literary history all rolled up into one. It's meta. It's action-packed. It's poetry. It works on every level. Best yet, it's meant to be performed and Ron Perlman, the man behind Hellboy, is the perfect guy for the job.
You can tell when I really super loved a book, because that's when I get all tongue tied and speechless. So I'm going to shut up about this now. 5,000 stars. The end....more
What I'd heard was: "Dickensian!" "Art theft!" I was hardly prepared for a book so beautiful, mysterious, dark and strange; one that made me laugh andWhat I'd heard was: "Dickensian!" "Art theft!" I was hardly prepared for a book so beautiful, mysterious, dark and strange; one that made me laugh and ache.
Interesting, important critique of the dangers of centralized social media. Reminded me of other anti-tech stuff that other novelists have put out oveInteresting, important critique of the dangers of centralized social media. Reminded me of other anti-tech stuff that other novelists have put out over the past decade, like Mark Helprin and Jonathan Franzen. I think Dave Eggers does it best of these three, but he still seemed so swept up in the passion of his argument that the narrative came off feeling strained. And even in a satire I want my characters to have a bit more depth. Mae, poor Mae, and let's not even get started on her antler chandelier-making ex-boyfriend, Mercer.
But I liked The Circle even though it creeped me out, which is what it set out to do. So, job well done! These are old arguments framed in new ways that are still important for our age to consider as we grow into the tools that we hope will make us better via the "extended mind" theory of cognition. I still see beauty in social media, and The Circle reminds me to be selective about who I trade my data to, and for what....more
This book is bananas beautiful. The sort where you go “Oooh, I didn’t know books could do that!” After his wife suddenly stops speaking, a character nThis book is bananas beautiful. The sort where you go “Oooh, I didn’t know books could do that!” After his wife suddenly stops speaking, a character named Jesse Ball becomes immersed in the story of Oda Sotatsu, a young Japanese man on death row who takes a vow of silence after signing a confession to a crime he didn’t commit. But who is Sotatsu protecting, and why won’t he speak up to save his own life? The story fits together like an Escher painting, playing with writing forms from the exactingly journalistic to the heartstabbingly lyrical, and the whole thing is a big gorgeous mindf*ck by the end. Just when I think I’ve read it all, a book like this comes along and shows me I don’t know a thing....more