Book Reports

A Crackup at the Race Riots
Harmony Korinne
I was in a pawn shop on the corner of Poplar and Cleveland the other day. And I swear to God the whole place smelled like cocaine. No kidding. It was like they were manufacturing it in the back behind the stacks of VCRs and old amplifiers. I kept touching my nose while I was in there. I'm serious. The unmistakable scent of cocaine permeated the air. That sickly sweet scent, almost bleachy, you know? I guess it saved their customers the trip: pawn your shit and buy your drugs with the money at the same place. How depressingly convenient. The irony of it all was too much. I had to leave. I did buy a glockenspiel for $150, though.
I've always wanted to write a story for the local weekly about pawn shops called "For those about to hock, we salute you." I do not miss my pawn shop years, at all. And I truly hope Harmony Korinne is OK. The British tabloids may think they have a great story when they report that he's dropping crack pipes in fancy French restaurants. But to me that is a sad shame. I know this guy is talented. I know he doesn't want to be an addict. This book could have been better and Harmony could put out some genius stuff. But he is at the bottom of his own pitfall and I understand and I empathize.

And You Shall Know Our Velocity
Dave Eggers
A book about a guy who comes into some money and then blows it all in a half-ass, mis-directed philanthropic romp in several third-world countries. The blunderings of the main character and his sloppy distribution and hypocrisy with his newfound wealth will distract you through the entire story. And, in addition to that, I can't believe Dave Eggers can't say the word "ass." You know what he says instead? "Rear." Can you fucking believe that? This is a grown man, a writer, who can't say ass. I will stand atop the highest African mountain and yell "ass" at the top of my lungs. I will announce it to the treetops and the giraffe heads sticking up through them.
What a loser. I thought his target audience was shiftless, half-educated white guys who wear boxers and get their news from Do white people say "ass" anymore? I think I've been gentrified.

John Hersey
My friend Bonnie gave me this book for my twenty-eighth birthday. And while I was reading the terrible trials of the seven main characters all I could think was that Americans' have the shortest fucking memory ever. We can talk all day about the horrors of Al-Queda's terrorism plots or Saddam Hussein's reign of terror. But doesn't anyone realize that we fucking dropped a death warrant on one hundred thousand innocent Japanese people at Hiroshima in 1945? And then if that wasn't enough to chew on, we dropped another fucking bomb on Nagasaki! These weren't military targets, these were cities where people were eating breakfast and walking their kids to school. I heard a radio story the other day that talked about the German people's guilt for the genocide during WWII. And I wonder whether America has ever considered it's own atrocities. We don't realize what we've done as a nation. Fuck this blind, military patriotism. Fuck this country for returning so quickly to our television reality shows and disco clubs after 9/11. Some writers are good at listing the various crimes of the U.S. government off the top of their heads. I'm not.. You know when you read something in the Nation that lists a timeline of how the CIA murdered civilians in other countries or the federal government stole money from the American people? I love that shit. I wish we could see more of that on NBC primetime or in Newsweek. We need to be reminded that our government is comprised of killers and thieves. Don't be ashamed of standing on a soapbox.

Fool for Love
Sam Shepard
A play about a man and a woman fighting like it will be the last fight ever in the history of the world. Sam sure does have a way of making things seem a lot more romantic and tragic in his world than they are around here. I'm tired of fighting about meaningless things like losing keys or paying bills. I used to date this girl and our fights would be incredibly dramatic: we were like two samurai sparring. One night at 2 am or so she got so upset she ran down the street in her nightgown and locked herself in my car. It was like fucking WARGAMES with her, you know, that movie with Matthew Broderick and the computer goes, "Shall we play a game?". It was like that. You've got to love someone that much in order to fight with them that badly.

Studs Terkel
Another birthday gift, given to me by infamous Magnet columnist and heckle-prone stand-up comedian Andrew Earles. This book was written in the late 70s by the sportswriter, Studs Terkel. So you really get a strong sense of the social and economic crisis that had been festering since the late 60s and that would eventually envelop the nation during the Reagan administration. The middle class stiffs in their sterile cubicles; rural, farming families trying to battle both Mother Nature and the corporate farming takeover; working class dudes just trying to make sense of their lives. The book is written in an interview format with dozens of people's stories from all different strata of society and it will both break and warm your heart.

Evguenie Sokolov
Serge Gainsbourg
This is a short fiction novel by the French musician/composer Serge Gainsbourg. I never knew he wrote a book, and it's a shame he didn't write more. His sense of humor is absolutely earth-shattering. The main character, Evguenie, is an artist and musician, much like Gainsbourg, who discovers that he can fart on command. The act of passing gas soon begans to dictate his entire being, his whole lifestyle. Farting makes this character who he is. It's great reading the hundreds of different ways Gainsbourg describes farting. And the subject is taboo only because it is embarrassing and girls are incapable of doing it. The book is published by Tam Tam Books out of Los Angeles, if you want a copy. A must for fans of Gainsbourg or flatulence.

McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales
Edited by Michael Chabon
I would honestly rather read the humbly talented stuff here on rather than the blog-scene blather of McSweeney's. What in the world are Elmore Leonard, Stephen King and Michael-fucking-Crichton doing in a collection put out by a publisher who claims to print new/upcoming/struggling writers? But Andy Earles advised me to give this collection a second chance, so I did. The book is a collection of ghost stories, spooky tales and bizarre crimes and the stories by Rick Moody and Nick Hornby stood out (especially Hornby; the cover price itself is worth his 18-page story about a VCR prophetizing the end of the world). But the one that really got me was the Jim Shepard story about an adventurer in search of a giant, prehistoric shark. The weird monster tales I've been working on for a new book resemble Shepard's story, and his theme was a great influence. So, yes, I am recommending a McSweeney's comp. Maybe all my animosity comes from feeling inadequate for the hollowed pages of McSweeney's. Feeling self-conscious about your own writing is a debilitating pain in the ass, isn't it?

Wim Wenders
We all loved Paris, Texas for one reason or another. And this book by Wenders has the same warm touch that his films do. He's capable of being dramatic without being melodramatic, which can be difficult for some writers, myself definitely included. Once is a collection of poetry and notes that accompany a sort of photo essay about America. The poem-pictures of John Lurie, Akira Kurosawa and Harry Dean Stanton are incredible. Filled with both sadness and hope.


- Brendan L. Spengler