Entertaining read for Birbiglia fans (like myself); this is largely a re-telling of the vignettes from his stand-up performances. The only disappointm...moreEntertaining read for Birbiglia fans (like myself); this is largely a re-telling of the vignettes from his stand-up performances. The only disappointment was that I had already heard most of it (though even the second time around it brought a smile to my face). The section on Mitch Hedberg was new to me though, and actually quite touching.
If you've never heard his stand-up before though, you might want to hold off on the book until you've got some familiarity with his style. A great deal of the humor comes from Birbiglia's well-honed intonation, and this, sadly doesn't come across with just the written word. So go watch some youtube clips first, and come back to the book.(less)
Beach reading for Phuket. A random agglomeration of stories King wrote for magazines over the years, collected together for the purpose of topping off...moreBeach reading for Phuket. A random agglomeration of stories King wrote for magazines over the years, collected together for the purpose of topping off his swimming pool full of money. In the end, tastes like a meal prepared by a master chef using only condiments from a bachelor's derelict refridgerator. A far cry from the dark delights of Night Shift or even the squirmy body horror of Skeleton Crew. Bought this collection on the Kindle for "The Night Flier," the sharpest story in the pack. Personally I think it's almost the same caliber as his work in Night Shift, though it would need a bit of trimming to blend with those tightly written gems. Dolan's Cadillac is a decent re-telling of The Cask of Amontillado, The Ten O'Clock People is a decent re-telling of the movie "They Live", and Crouch End is a decent imitation of Lovecraft. Aside from these, there isn't much to recommend this collection. (less)
The most scabrous eruption of nihilism put to paper, at least until the writing of Twilight:Breaking Dawn. Celine has composed the definitive atlas of...moreThe most scabrous eruption of nihilism put to paper, at least until the writing of Twilight:Breaking Dawn. Celine has composed the definitive atlas of loathing: for nature, for god, for mankind and his multitude of follies; nothing escapes his withering gaze. 'Journey' stands in relation to friendlier works, like 'Nausea', much as the film 'Threads' does to 'The Day After' (perhaps no-one is familiar enough with these four works to get that comparison, but Celine would certainly approve of the misanthropy of a simile which excludes everyone).
Our protagonist dodges bullets in the bloodbath of WWI, suffers fevers in colonial Africa, escapes to Manhattan where he partakes of the the camaraderie of a massive public toilet, then back to France, where he ends up working in an asylum (natch). But the plot is secondary to the real attraction: the incandescence of the writing. This heaving slew of resonant metaphors, philosophy, and bleak epigrams washes over you with the magnificence of a pyroclastic flow.
But don't take my word for it!
The 'Papoutah' plowed through the water as slowly and painfully as if she herself had sweated it all.
In Topo the raw, stifling heat, so perfectly concentrated in that sand pit between the conjugated mirrors of the sea and the river, would have made you swear by your bleeding buttocks that you were being forced to sit on a chunk of the sun that had just fallen off.
The sunsets in that African hell proved to be fabulous. They never missed. As tragic every time as the monumental murder of the sun! For a whole hour the sky paraded in great delirious spurts of scarlet from end to end; after that the green of the trees exploded and rose up in quivering trails to meet the first starts...That was the end. All the colors fell back down on the forest in tatters, like streamers after the hundredth performance.
This body of ours, this disguise put on by common jumping molecules, is in constant revolt against the abominable farce of having to endure. Our molecules, the dears, want to get lost in the universe as fast as they can! It makes them miserable to be nothing but "us," the jerks of infinity.
Misery is like some horrible woman you've married. Maybe it's better to end up loving her a little than to knock yourself out beating her all your life. Since obviously you won't be able to bump her off.
Love thwarted by poverty and distance is like a sailor's love; no two ways, it's irrefutable and sure fire. In the first place, when you're unable to meet too often, you can't fight, which is that much gained. Since life consists of madness spiked with lies, the farther you are from each other the more lies you can put into it and the happier you'll be.
Might as well be Lucifer's closing arguments for his lawsuit against the existence of the universe. Truly, this work is the nihilist's bible. (less)
A unprepossessing but magical little book - like finding a dingy door in the basement that opens up into the immensity of China. The book is a collect...moreA unprepossessing but magical little book - like finding a dingy door in the basement that opens up into the immensity of China. The book is a collection of interviews with a remarkably diverse group of Chinese people: from an ex-prostitute to the brother of the ex-emperor, Pu Yi. There are around 50 interviews in all, but some voices stand out for their authenticity and vibrancy. There's the gruff woodsman who hunts tigers for zoos using his bare hands, the bumptious parvenu couple boasting about their wealth and bickering as they devour an enormous meal, the travails of a woman who went blind as a young child and eventually found work as a masseuse, the wisecracking mortician, the beautiful, diffident club singer, and many more.
One common theme to all these stories is the pernicious effect of the Cultural Revolution. Some of these people suffered, some inflicted suffering, a few escaped unscathed. but for all it was a defining, transformative event in their lives.
One stylistic choice of the work deserves note: the voice of the interviewer has been removed - all we hear are the voices of the people telling their stories. But we do hear their reactions to the questions of their absent interlocutor. The effect, interestingly enough, is that the reader is injected into the narrative: there is a sense of interaction that comes from hearing only one side of a conversation and filling in the other side yourself. And the intimacy and matter-of-factness of the interviews evokes memories of the conversations one has as a traveller. In a curious way you take the place of the interviewer and feel as though these conversations are directed at you.
In the course of all these conversations, you develop a very warm understanding of the Chinese people and the world they struggle in. In America, at least, we tend to vilify those communist holdouts, but in these stories, you do get to see the unexpectedly positive feelings the people have for their government. One story in particular stands out. A young girl is sold into prostitution by her dissolute parents in pre-revolutionary china, she succumbs to vice, becomes addicted to heroin, and seems destined to follow a doomed trajectory as old as civilization. Then came the revolution, and she was rounded up with all the other prostitutes to a reeducation camp. Like the rest, she rebels against the sanctimonious communists, imposing their absolute virtues on these world-weary women. But bit by bit she comes to realize she is caught up in something unprecedented in her experience: people who genuinely care for her and want to lead her to redemption. She finds it in herself to accept their offer and her life is transformed. Her love for the party is palpable, and heartwarming. And for a moment, at least, you can believe that its really within our power to make the world a happier, more just, more hopeful place to live and die in. (less)