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Friday, June 11, 2010

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

David Sedaris wrote or at least published the essays in this book after he had become fairly famous.  Some of them are actually about his notoriety, one essay is the story of him telling his sister that one of his books will be made into a movie and her discomfort about having the family portrayed onscreen.

I love how well he handles the topic of his fame and fortune, he seems to take it in stride.  I like how people who become famous later in life seem to be a bit more fully baked than those that were shoved out into the limelight at an early age.

This novel focuses on his family when they're older and most of them get an essay each.  I especially loved the one about his brother, it was about him becoming the first one in the family to have a child and how fatherhood changed and didn't change him.

This book seemed a little darker than the other books, but still it was very enjoyable.  I didn't laugh out loud as much as I did reading the other books, If you want to see some of the better quotes you can look here.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Straight Dope

The Straight Dope was one of my favorite reasons to go to the laundromat when I lived in downtown Salt Lake City.  They carried the Straight Dope column and it was always exciting to learn something new and obscure.

Cecil Adams is the pseudonymous author, possibly a team of authors, that created a weekly column in the seventies.  People would write in and ask obscure questions and Cecil would find the answers.  Everything was in play from what happens if you carry a glass of water into space to why is there on channel one on television.

As you can see from the last question, since my Comcast now comes with channel one, lots of the information that Cecil imparted is now wrong, irrelevant or quaint.  This book even includes a charming chapter on the phone company.  Who is the phone company again?

Unfortunately someone like Cecil would have a tough time getting off the ground, now we have Wikipedia, Google and even Cecil has moved his content online with a forum where you can ask the "teeming millions" as Cecil affectionately called his fans questions and they will point you to a web link that will probably answer your question.  The days of writing in and hoping that weeks or months later that your question would be answered are long gone and good riddance to them but still those days of reading a paper while I did some laundry have a warm place in my heart.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Snuff

Amazon reviews on Snuff were overall terrible.  People didn't like the fact that Chuck Palahniuk used multiple characters when most of his books have been about exploring the deep dark side of one main character.  Was this written just to shock people?  Why yes but that's part of why Mr. Palahniuk writes and this one is definitely not for the kids,

This book is a two hundred pager set pretty much entirely on the set of a porn shoot.  The porn shoot is similar to the gonzo porn shoot that Annabel Chong did a few years ago that made the news, inspired a poorly rated documentary and achieved it's goal of causing jaws to drop all over the place.

The book is okay, not super, it reads more like a stand up act but didn't leave me rolling on the floor like Choke did.  As in all Palahniuk novels it's heavily researched.  I learned lots of facts about what goes on at a porn shoot, too bad none of that information is going to appear on a trivial pursuit card.  It's very unlikely that it will come up during casual conversation either so I guess it's as worthless as worthless trivia gets.  The best over the top part of the book was near the end, the main character is giving out movie star advice and beauty tips, like how Marilyn Monroe used to cut the heel of one shoe shorter so that a sexy grinding walk results.  Or how if you're a gay man that sounds like David Sedaris, if you scream until your throat is scarred and drink eggshells your vocal cords will thicken and you become Rock Hudson.  Yes it was outrageous and funny,  and a good share of it was probably rumor from the tabloids of the fifties but it was a wonderful chapter and a fantastic read.

After reading this I read up a bit about the Annabel Chong story, if Wikipedia is to be believed she was a young girl on a foreign exchange scholarship in Europe when she was gang raped.  Any low grade psychologist could probably make the connection to what a horrific ordeal that must have been and seen that an over the top career on pornography was a way to deal with the trauma.  The sad thing about Snuff was that it never reached even this level of depth of back-story so it ends up being more of a freak show than a novel.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Dead Man's Walk

Dead Man's Walk is a book by Larry McMurtry that is part of his famous series about Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call.  If you haven't read Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo go read them now, they're the best western novels ever.

As in the other novels about the duo of Texas Rangers, ranchers and plains warriors the two are swept into a series of adventures on the central plains of the United States, partially out of a sense of adventure and a desire for pay and partially because they are swept along by events that we now call history.  I love how McMurtry always makes the land and the times as much of a character and a force of his novels as the people he spotlights.  It's what makes his novels rise above being an entertainment and a distraction and become literary art.  McMurtry is almost a post modern artist in his portrayal of his characters, in many tragedies you have a lament from a main character and an awakening as to how the tragedy could be avoided.  McMurtry is wise enough to know that some tragedies are destined to happen by the forces of change outside anyone's control and he is just highlighting a story that happened along the way.

For example the Native Americans were going to be forced off the plains and forced to integrate as much as they could and compromise with the settlers who moved west.  The stories of the (in his novels fictional) native warriors who fought are fascinating.

This novel suffers a bit from an altogether improbable ending.  The thing I loved about Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo were the endings.  Somehow even though the endings were nontraditional and unexpected they fit into the mood of the story and everything important was resolved.   Dead Man's Walk's ending slipped over the edge to being contrived.  It seemed like the book ended because the page account that the publisher required was met, not because the story had evolved to a stopping place.  I guess that's why Lonesome Dove and Streets of Laredo have page counts much larger than the none too thin 450 or so that this novel had.  There is another novel set in time right after Dead Man's Walk that may resolve the lives of the young rangers in a more satisfying fashion.  I'll have to read it someday and find out.

I did enjoy the journey though and would highly suggest it for anyone who loves McMurtry, history or tales of the Southwest.