Entries Categorized as 'Dogeared'
April 20, 2007
Miranda July promos her upcoming short story collection, No One Belongs Here More Than You in typical July fashion with this lo-fi website. It is funny, unexpected and endearing. Alternately, you may find it precious and annoying, but you might also not have any joy in your heart.
I remember going to an interview with her and George Saunders at the Hammer Museum where she tried to absorb every thing Saunders told her. Saunders is a phenomenal short story writer and a creative writing professor at Syracuse, so not only is a fine storyteller, but he is adept at breaking down his process at explaining it to others. It’ll be interesting to see if any of that shows itself in July’s naturally offbeat and intuitively left-field storytelling.
If you’re interested in hearing Saunders and July talk about cultivating story ideas, creating expectations, earning epiphanies and sabotaging your inner-Hemingway, the whole conversation has been archived here, in convenient mp3 format.
August 16, 2005
I also finished Pastoralia, a short story compilation by George Saunders. This was the other book I bought while I was hanging with Miranda July last month, and ironically it’s about eight million times better than hers. It’s not a slight, really, Saunders’ book is just brilliant.
The centerpiece of the collection is the novella length title piece, a story about an employee of a vast theme park reserve. His job, unfortunately, is that of neanderthal re-enactor, which means he sits in a cave and pretends to eat flies, put goat on a spit and snarls as customers poke their head in the cave. He is the guy in the Goofy suit, if Jurassic Park were a real place like Disneyland. His co-worker is a chain-smoking pain in the ass, who doesn’t even bother to grunt anymore. As the days go on, he must deal with her and impending downsizing in Pastoralia.
Saunders is a comedic satire writer, but his eye is so sharp that much of the book doesn’t even feel particularly satirical. It’s always a bit odd but never quite fantastical, but it straddles a line between pure fiction and believable reality. There’s an understated optimism in the work too though, so it’s not merely cynical exercise. My other favorite piece is called “The Falls,” which seems to summarize the entirety of human emotion in two sentences. The book covers compare him to Twain, Vonnegut and Beckett, to give you an indication. I don’t want him to put him in that lofty company. Yet.
“Sea Oak” isn’t one of the great pieces, but it does give you a bit of the flavor, and it is available in its entirety here. It’s a male stripper zombie tale set in the hood. Come on, you know you want to read that.
August 15, 2005
I finally stumbled through SuperStud: Or How I Became a 24 Year Old Virgin by Paul Feig, and I have to say I was pretty disappointed. Superstud is the autobiographical ongoing saga of Feig, continuing on from the Kick Me, which was sincerely funny. Even with Kick Me, I felt that Paul Feig wasn’t that great a writer or a storyteller, but he did have really funny stories to tell, which made the whole thing worthwhile. For Superstud, the stories are much more conventional, repeated failings with women spawning from his own insecurities and mistakes. Barring a short chapter on autofellatio, there’s nothing that’s particularly outlandish enough to rival the Nazi banner or the cross-dressing in Kick Me.
There’s also a few bits of lazyish storytelling as well, with one chapter about his summer in California told in bullet-points. The chapter where Feig finally gets laid is formatted like a bible verse, but is interminably long and aimless. As an autobio, there are times where it feels Feig seems to going for that high level of detail for authenticity’s sake, but in a lot of ways it is a detriment to the story.
Coincidentally, Feig’s Freaks and Geeks cohort Judd Apatow is unveiling his own virgin tale next week with Steve Carell as The 40 Year Old Virgin. It’ll be interesting if he can spin better material off a similar concept by exaggerating it for comic effect.
September 5, 2004
When I heard that Colin Meloy of the Decemberists was writing a book about The Replacement’s “Let it Be,” it sounded like a bit of a dream. One of my favorite songwriters getting to whack at one of my favorite albums just seemed too good to be true. It showed up in my mail and it was nothing like I expected.
First of all, it wasn’t really a book. The book itself is a little chapbook, about five inches high and a hundred pages deep. I could fit it in my pocket, and I found that I could actually finish it in the exact same time it took to play “Let It Be” from start to finish. I thought that was pretty nifty, like a low tech dvd commentary.
Meloy’s Decemberists aren’t anything like the Mats at all, but I was still expecting the book to mostly be analysis of Westerberg’s fine songwriting. I was pleased and disappointed to find that the book didn’t have much to do with the Replacements at all. Instead, Meloy gives us a memoir of his awkward middle school days in Helena, Montana, filling his tear filled nights with a beat up cassette of “Let it Be.” It’s nostalgic and just a little bit saccharine, but it’s also as close to a Meloy autobio as you’re likely to get.
Mustering all my bravery, I shut my eyes and began playing a choice selection of songs I had been taught by Al’s brother. I played “Sixteen Blue” and “God Save The Queen”; I played “Good Feeling” by the Violent Femmes, even humming the closing violin line. When I opened my eyes again, only a few of the girls were remaining, and most were talking amongst themselves. Phoebe had gone.
“Do you know ‘Patience?’” one asked.
A similar story is the only reason I can play “More Than Words” on guitar, by the way. Like his songs, Meloy’s put together a nice little read for all castaways and cutouts. Replacements fans, particularly ones that love the Mats raging attitude and drunken antics, should probably avoid this book at all costs.
September 5, 2004
by Motley Crue
This was hyped to me as the greatest rock bio of all time, the most decadent piece of music-lit since Led Zeppelin’s Hammer of the Gods. This is all true. For the Behind the Music set, this has a truly staggering level of drug use and sexcapades. Imagine the four dumbest guys you know getting shitloads of money and carte blanche to be gigantic assholes with really bad hair and you get a good sense of the story. The book gets repetitive fast, and the only laughs I got towards the end were from Tommy Lee’s excessive use of the words “DUDE” and “BRO.”
I found myself subconsciously using BRO in every e-mail I wrote one week.
June 30, 2004
Why Black People Tend to Shout
by Ralph Wiley
When Ralph Wiley died a couple of weeks ago, he died as the only sportswriter I actually looked forward to reading. The thing about sportswriting is that most of it is terrible, a semi-regular crawl of column inches put out as filler, occasionally being controversal enough to piss some people off. Wiley always read differently to me. He was a guy who clearly loved writing, sports and writing about sports. Even with a weekly column on espn.com, he put out consistent work with a distinct voice.
So when he died that was a real bummer, and for consolation I got one of his non-sports books. Why Black People Tend to Shout is (like a lot of my recent non-fiction) a compilation of essays. As the title may suggest, Wiley takes on various aspects of Black culture and goes through it bit by bit while being simultaneously entertaining and educational. It’s not a huge eye opener in a lot of respects. It was written in 1991 and similar material’s been mined since then (most of Chris Rock’s career-breaking standup covers a lot of the same ground).
That said, it’s still sharp and relevant as ever. You can’t knock a guy willing to title a chapter “Why Black People Have No Culture” and has the first line of that chapter be “because it’s been on loan to White people with no interest.” Another nice bit, on why White people shouldn’t expect Wiley to trust them:
So why should any white person be somehow offended because he or she isn’t trusted by me? Why should that make me suspect? Why?
Because everybody wants to be respected enough to be trusted. Only white people assume they deserve this respect just because they are white and want it. The truth is simple. Black people have to love you before they trust you – and then it’s iffy. This has nothing to do with color or preference. It all depends on you.
Hard experience has taught black people this: Only those you know and trust can truly hurt you to the quick in this life. You expect to be hurt by everybody else.
Thanks for all the words, Wiley.
June 23, 2004
Our Band Could Be Your Life
Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991 by Michael Azerrad
I was jacked to read this book, a set of thirteen rock biographies on some of the most influential bands of the American underground in the 1980s. Michael Azerrad did a great job picking out the bands, starting with Black Flag’s relentless assault and running all the way to Beat Happening’s quirky-fey indie approach. In between are chapters on the Minutemen, Mission of Burma, Husker Du, The Replacements, Minor Threat, Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Big Black, Dinosaur Jr, Butthole Surfers and Mudhoney.
I plowed through it in a few days, but I’m not sure there’s a lot of meat here. There are some great stories mixed in, but most of the bios are straight timeline recollections that bounce around from fact to fact without any particularly strong narrative. The strength of the book are the band personalities that happen to shine through, from Mike Watt’s awkward exuberance to Ian MacKaye’s grim determination. All the band stories seem eerily familiar, as almost all of them follow the same career trajectory of bored kids -> big ideas -> modest success -> implosion. The details are enough to keep it together though, and hearing MacKaye describe the straight-edge ethic or just hearing any good Mats’ drinking story will keep you flipping the pages.
One problem I had, and this is the case for many music books, is that if you’re not fairly familiar with the material then it’s a lost cause. Azerrad walks himself into no man’s land here, as most of the prose isn’t interesting enough to convert non-fans and fans are probably well versed enough that they don’t need the long explanations about every single band release. With that in mind, I’d recommend it to anyone with a passing interest but nix it for those who just don’t give a fuck.
June 19, 2004
I just knocked off another music book for the hell of it. This is Pop! is a compilation of essays done for the Experience Music Project in Seattle. Like most compilations, it’s a little hit or miss, and I think the overall tone of the book is a bit too academic to be really considered entertaining. That said, there’s still quite a bit of insight to be had in these pages, and the better pieces gave me tons to think about.
Some of the better topics covered in the book included:
- Authenticity, Gender and Personal Voice, a wide-ranging piece about female authorship that segues into academia and even a little ancient Greek (Sarah Dougher)
- Compressing Pop, an article about the evils of mixing for the radio (Douglas Wolk)
- The Carly Simon Principle: Sincerity and Pop Greatness, which was probably my favorite essay in the whole book, about how songs gain status through an illusion of authenticity (Chuck Klosterman)
- Discophilia in the Age of Digital Reproduction, about record collecting via piracy (Julian Dibbell)
- The Persistence of Hair, all about hair metal in the new millenium and why the hell it’s still here (John Darnielle)
- More Rock, Less Talk about the fleeting perfection of live performance (Carrie Brownstein)
May 22, 2004
I powered through the Lester Bangs compilation Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung this morning in one sitting (and some laying down). I read the other Lester Bangs compilation, Mainlines, Blood Feats and Bad Taste a few months ago and liked it enough. Psychotic Reactions, on the other hand, is a monumental piece of work.
Bangs is almost universally recognized as the greatest rock critic there ever was, and it’s pretty easy to see why. His rambling, tangent filled tirades are as entertaining as the bands he writes about. The thing that seperates Bangs from the rest is his honesty, and his absolute need for it. When he raves about Count Five, Van Morrison or the Clash, it comes from a real place, just as much as he truly despises James Taylor and Led Zeppelin. He was someone that couldn’t abide by phoneys and fakes and you never got the sense that he was ever trying to be cool with his choices.
He was also unafraid to get uncomfortably personal with his material. Greil Marcus compiles a series of essays and interveiws that Bangs wrote about Lou Reed, and there’s a genuine sense of betrayal and disappointment as the pieces go on. He loved the Velvet Underground as much as any band, and Bangs reaction to Reed’s solo career is a lovely and sad treatise on hero-worship. When they finally meet for an interview it is awkward and fascinating in all the right ways.
Oh, and the part where the President of Vietnam goes on and on about how Jethro Tull bites ass because they sound just like Vietnamese folk music? That’s just genius.
March 7, 2004
I polished off Positively Fifth Street this weekend. It was fair, but not really great. Covering the World Series of Poker for Harper’s, James McManus originally planned on weaving a tale about the rise of women in the World Series at Binion’s Horsehoe with the seedy murder case of Ted Binion that was going down at about the same time. Something funny happened on the way to the story though, and McManus finds himself playing further and longer in the World Series than the people he planned on covering, all the way until the final table and placing him in the top six poker players in the whole world.
It’s a great story, and when McManus is focused on his incredible run, the book is terrific. He breaks down hands card by card and readily admits to his numerous mistakes on his miraculous trip. In certain ways, it does take a bit of mystique from the game, as McManus’ self-effacing narration makes it seem like he lucked into almost all of his winning hands. Even still, the longshot, underdog storyline writes itself and it’s by far the best part of the book.
The problems I had with the book were with all the surrounding stuff. All the bits about the other players are solid, but it all suffers a bit since the author is too busy playing poker for himself. He covers a lot of back story, but there’s not a whole lotta info about Annie Duke powering through to 10th place … while EIGHT MONTHS PREGNANT. While that’s a little problematic, the bits about the Ted Binion murder are almost completely superfluous. I felt like they were supposed to add color, but there’s not much interplay between this thread and the other. Instead it’s just kind of tacked on.