Saturday, February 25, 2006

Book Update

Well, not books exactly, but authors.

Gotta take Chuck Palahniuk down a peg or two.  I just finished reading his infamous short story, "Guts."  I refuse to link to it for you, in large part because I don't want even a billionth of an iota's blame for you reading it.  You can find it on if you insist, but consider yourself not just warned, but begged, not to do so.

A small (OK, big) part of me doubted that a cosmopolitan fellow like myself could be truly grossed out by anything.  I'd heard all the hype.  I'd heard about the readings he'd given in bookstores, where audience members threw up because of what he'd written.  But I concluded that the average American reader is probably more conservative than I am... after all, I've got a pretty creative imagination (read: pervert).  In other words, it couldn't be that bad.

It is.  "Guts" is probably the most disgusting thing my brain ever been forced to process.  I give Palahniuk full credit; "Guts" does have artistic value, both as a writing exercise and as a message about the things people will refuse to talk about publicly.  Part of the exercise is to amuse himself, indulge his own abilities, and test the boundaries of good taste in mainstream literature.  But the point of the story is that people will refuse to acknowledge or discuss certain unsavory, but dreadfully important, aspects of life.  Sure, he illustrates that by discussing unsavory things that are not dreadfully important, but the point stands: it's easier to not think about what disturbs you, what you fear, what you are too weak to deal with, than it is to look straight at it and acknowledge it as the truth.

So don't read it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Books Pantheon

I don't think I've ever made a list of my all-time favorite books. I guess I'm not really a reader. Although I do have impeccable taste. So I thought I should give a shout-out to some books and authors. Partly because lists are fun, but partly because I just read a really excellent book.

Great books always inspire me in some way. Usually they make me wonder what that f@$king big-shot Irving has that I don't have, then after a couple days of writing I figure it out: patience and focus. Turns out I can't write a 21st century World According To Garp in a couple of days. But even when I don't try to emulate a book I like, I try my damndest to pester people about it. So, without further ado... let the pestering begin!

All-Time Favorite Authors
Flannery O'Connor
Ernest Hemingway
John Irving
Mark Leyner
Michael Chabon
Frank Conroy
Roald Dahl

Great, But Not Quite Favorite
Chuck Klosterman
J.R.R. Tolkien
Chuck Palahniuk
Irvine Welsh

Worth A Look
William Goldman
Haruki Murakami
Neal Stephenson
Zadie Smith
Dave Eggers
Nick Hornby (talk about jumping the shark! stick to music, pal.)
Calvin Trillin (mmm, food)

Some All-Time Favorite Books
(I can't possibly promise that this list is accurate!)

A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers
Mold-busting, creative, entertaining, and full of heart. Perfect memoir. But the real heartbreak is knowing that Eggers can't top it. His glacial attempt at a novel was enough to snap me out of it. Not that the world wouldn't be better with 20 more Eggers novels, but I doubt I'd want to read any of them.

Tooth Imprints On A Corn Dog by Mark Leyner
Certifiable, both as a genius and as an insane person. Tooth Imprints is his strongest and most accessible work. He knows literary conventions inside and out, and fucks them all from behind, one by one. Exhausting as hell, but just as entertaining.

Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman
Heady praise for a book I finished four days ago. But I can't shut up about it. It's no great accomplishment that he uses reality TV and pop music as crutches for a discussion of the state of American popular culture... but to do it with respect is what makes the book ring so true.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Enormous, sprawling, and helplessly indulgent. But in the Peter Jackson way, not the George Lucas way.

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
Perhaps not Irving's most impressive work, nor the work he will be remembered for. But certainly his most controlled. Not that I don't like his indulgences in Garp or Hotel New Hampshire, but Owen's story is strong enough to work without the bells and whistles. That focus is why I would give Owen Meany the nod over Cider House Rules, which is certainly more epic and more Irving-like (read: Dickensian) in tone.

The Complete Short Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Yeah, I'm a dork for including my high school English reading. But I love O'Connor. She and Hemingway were the only authors I read in high school who inspired me. In my expert opinion, she wrote the best, most evocative American fiction of the last half of the 20th century. Her prose is like the rural American wasteland she illustrates... sparse, depressing, but ultimately sturdy. That she died young, of natural causes, is not just tragic but also oddly reflective of her work.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay by Michael Chabon
Chabon's attempt at the Great American Novel doesn't fall too far short. It's everything.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Highlight Of The Week

This is tremendous, even if it comes from a "sedentary indoorsman liberal-elite Jew-bag."  What a way to end the work week.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

All Albums Should End With A Bang

Whenever I take some time off from Bloc Party's Silent Alarm, and then come back to it, it always sucks me back in. I've been listening to it regularly for, ohhhh, 6-8 months now, and it still feels fresh. Every time I come back, there's something new I notice... a bass line, or an extra drum fill, or the coordinated dual guitar work. It's not a dense album, exactly, but the combination of musicianship and conception is unparalleled. It's by far my favorite album of last year, and the most important inasmuch as it blazes a trail for so many current bands trying to follow their act.

Here's the problem. Silent Alarm can't go on top of a best-of list, because the last two tracks are so blah next to each other. You can't have a top album of 2005 if nobody bothers to listen to the end of the album. (This is also known as the "Sigur Rós Clause.") If Bloc Party had stuck track 13 somewhere earlier, hiding it between some rockers and giving us a reason to keep listening, I'd feel different about it. This is something Sufjan addresses pretty well by a) putting the least interesting track on Illinois, "The Seer's Tower," immediately before one of its best, "The Tallest Man," thereby negating any "well we can turn THIS off now" sentiments.

If I needed to pick the best albums of 2005 right now, I'd list them like so:

  1. Sufjan Stevens - Illinois (and the Nobel Prize for Originality goes to...)
  2. Bright Eyes - I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (And I've Got Psychotic 14-Year-Old Girls Chasing After Me)
  3. The Decemberists - Picaresque
  4. New Pornographers - Twin Cinema
  5. Bloc Party - Silent Alarm
  6. LCD Soundsystem - LCD Soundsystem
  7. Wolf Parade - Apologies to the Queen Mary
  8. Dangerdoom - The Mouse And The Mask
  9. Sigur Rós - Takk
  10. ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead - Worlds Apart

This list is all well and good, and I think a faithful representation of my current tastes in music. But despite being #5, Silent Alarm is still the album I'd want with me on a desert island. Go figure.

Something else I'm noticing with my list... not exactly a strong year for the hippety-hop when the only album on the list (Dangerdoom) is a borderline novelty album. Usually there's a couple albums each year that mean something to me, but not this year.

Perhaps you're wondering where Kanye is, given that I'm bellyachiing about a lack of crossover rap. He loses out due to the Sigur Rós Clause... I still haven't listened to Late Registration all the way through. His voice is so boring and elementary that I lose interest. It's a shame that Kanye's so commercially viable on his own, because it gives him no motivation to do what he does best, which is collaborating with MCs with actual skills, like past-and-future cohorts Talib Kweli and Common. Either of those two would have made both The College Dropout and Late Registration into hip-hop milestones. Instead, they're just commercial successes whose quality level is blown out of the water by every OutKast album since ATLiens... which came out almost ten years ago.

I'm not saying they're failed albums. But let's be clear. Kanye is serving his own needs by stepping up to the mic, not the needs of his music. If he doesn't have to share the glory, why should he? And frankly, you can't blame him. We as a music-consuming culture don't appreciate producers like we should. Even the best producers are ultimately just flavors of the month. Anyone know what the Neptunes have been up to? Me neither. The point is that Kanye could never have become a star without rapping on his own albums, but it's just not what Kanye is suited for.

Hence, he's not on the list. And I'm out.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

"Life's A Trip"...

...said Dave Chappelle tonight, on Inside The Actors' Studio, after hearing James Lipton ask, "who was the inspiration for 'I'm Gonna Piss On You'?"  Chappelle cracked up hearing it, noting how messed up it was to hear him say those words.  He's right; I had that experience, ohhhhhh, twelve times over the course of the two-hour show.  But it was a nice interview.  Good to spend a couple hours w/ Chappelle regardless of the format, cause he can make it entertaining or thought-provoking just by being himself.  It reminded me how genuine Chappelle is.  (Either that, or he's the world's greatest actor, and therefore entirely deserving of his appearance on the show.)

He had some very interesting observations on the whole Africa thing.  The gist of it is that people label you as "crazy" when you do something that they can't understand, but you're the one who has to defend yourself.  In his case, he dealt with not just the "crazy/breakdown" label, but also with the drug-addict label.  Because, you know, if you're an entertainer who screws over a corporation, clearly it must have been drug-motivated.  Sickening stuff, when you think about it.

Anyway, the good news is that he sounds ready to work again, so keep your eyes peeled.

On a side note, I'm not sure how I feel about the "salvaged" Chappelle's Show episodes that Comedy Central is planning to air.  I don't know whether the bigger fuck-you would be to watch, or to not watch.  On the one hand, his rumored motivation for quitting was that a) the content was ethically questionable and b) the suits were interfering; wouldn't watching those shows go against Chappelle's intentions?  Then again, perhaps not watching would only send a message that Chappelle is over, which isn't true, but still plays into the studios/networks' hands by signaling a lack of demand.  I dunno.  I guess I'll watch, but I'd rather watch something that's more directly beneficial to him.  Because I support Dave Chappelle, and I support what he stands for... fart jokes.

Thursday, February 09, 2006


This is amazing.  It has everything an internet fad needs to have.

Clerkin' Hard

Clerks II, scheduled for release this fall, got a write-up in Monday's USA Today.  One of the running themes is how superlatively disgusting the movie will be; putting Randal in a fast-food restaurant was probably too much to resist.  But slipping between dick-and-fart jokes is what appears to be a serious discussion about finding adulthood after a state of arrested development.  Kevin Smith has things to say when propoerly inspired (see Chasing Amy) so perhaps this will have some legitimacy, despite being caked in bodily fluids.  Jersey Girl's apparent suckitude, though, should serve as a warning.  Either way, something to look forward to.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Here in DC, there's traditionally a Senate/House softball game to decide which side of the legislative branch reigns supreme.  Last year the game was played at RFK, which is kind of a neat thing.  I didn't go or anything, but I could have!  Anyway, I'd presume that they had backup players for pinch-hitting, defensive replacements and so forth.  Presumably, those people would be able to continue working, via their cell phones or PDAs or whatever, while not playing.

Would that be considered "legislating from the bench"?