Getting caught up is difficult for me and every time I do so, it isn't long before I fall behind again. A few months ago I patted myself on the back for getting current on the New Yorker for the first time in three years. Now, I'm six issues deep. And so, here's my attempt to catch up on what I've been reading:
Big Beat Heat: Alan Freed and the early years of rock & roll by John A. Jackson
Freed was the king of radio disc jockeys and was instrumental in making rock 'n' roll music available to the masses. Some say he even coined the term but there is no doubt that he took music for a black audience and introduced it to white kids. Jackson's book is certainly informative but it's also exhausting. Half the details would have made a book twice as interesting.
Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: forty years of funny stuff
James Thurber is famously quoted:
"The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people--that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature."
What passes for humor writing these days is, with few exceptions, narrow, nonsensical and nasty (insert cranky old book blogger voice here. And get your books off my lawn!). I believe Trillin's work embodies the above quotation and this collection of smart humor, real wit, and biting satire provides ample testament. Whether they are reprints from his column in USAToday, casuals from the New Yorker or his many poems from the Nation, these pieces prove that Trillin isn't taking cheap shots or lobbing soft balls but is surgically skewering his subjects, himself among them.
Perhaps my highest compliment is the number of times I had to stifle my laughter, rocking, shaking-the-bed laughter, so as not to wake the sleeping Mrs. Next. Those kinds of laughs (some call it the "church laugh") are among my most cherished. As ever, Mr. Trillin, thank you.
And so from the delightful to the dour. After watching the first season of TV's Mad Men, I realized I couldn't care less about a group of people with so few redemptive qualities. Despite the cool that dripped from the characters, their suits, and their cigarettes, these folks were doomed and all the cool in the world couldn't make up for it. These were unlikable characters and I decided against investing any more of my time following their exploits. That is how I feel about The Dinner by Herman Koch which was already a bestseller abroad before its release here earlier this year.
The premise is great: the novel unfolds over apertifs as two couples, the narrator, Paul and his wife, Claire, and Paul's brother, Serge, and his wife, Babette, meet for dinner to discuss a serious matter involving their sons. The book takes place in "real time" over the course of the meal though there are plenty of flashbacks and memories.
Much has been made of Paul being an unreliable narrator which he certainly is but all the characters are a sorry bunch of angry, petty whiners who lack a moral code and strength of character.
If Koch set out to write a novel that makes me grow to hate all the characters then he succeeded (though how do you get that through sales meeting?). Unlike many critics and readers who lauded the book, I do not share their enthusiasm.
Okay. Back to the lighter side, I give you Mary Roach's Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. This isn't about souls transcending to the astral plane or deeply spiritual asides about life after death. No. Stiff is about what happens to your physical body when you die and as Mary says in the introduction "Death. It doesn't have to be boring". She's right, too. Despite tales of body snatching, decapitation, and cannibalism, this book is chock full of science while managing to maintain a respect for the dead. No small feat and it's funny as hell.
The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people --that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.- See more at: http://quotationsbook.com/quote/19887/#sthash.AgPreaHS.dpuf
The wit makes fun of other persons; the satirist makes fun of the world; the humorist makes fun of himself, but in so doing, he identifies himself with people --that is, people everywhere, not for the purpose of taking them apart, but simply revealing their true nature.- See more at: http://quotationsbook.com/quote/19887/#sthash.AgPreaHS.dpu