Sunday, April 29, 2007

Monthly Sidebar Update

Still tied up with real world family health concerns. I appreciate the nice words left on my last post. I haven't really had time to post anything new here (until now), but I've been scanning my favorite blogs when I can, leaving comments here and there, and it's been comforting to feel a part of this bizarre, disparate society. Thanks for that.

And now: Lock up your daughters! Shoot your sons! Be indifferent toward your other relatives! It's time for... the Monthly Sidebar Update!!

This month's Object of My Affection is the scorchingly hot Carla Gugino. She was erotically be-thonged in Sin City, she was the MILF to end all MILFs in the Spy Kids series, she was... in Night at the Museum, apparently. She's had a rough time on TV -- she headed the fine cast of the otherwise mediocre sci-fi misfire Threshold, she was at her absolute best in the brilliant, criminally-cancelled Karen Sisco, and she was legendarily shitcanned in the middle of the first season of Spin City with no warning, and even deleted from reruns of episodes she'd been in! That is harsh. She's gorgeous as all git-out and she's a darn fine actress, but, despite appearing in several box office hits, has yet to truly break through as a star in her own right, as she so richly deserves. Sometime soon, fingers crossed!

I've had a lot of reading time over the past month or so, and have probably read more books in the last four weeks than I read in the six months before that. Thus, an expanded book section for this Sidebar Update.

Among the Recently Read:

--Paul Neilan's Apathy and Other Small Victories is literally the funniest book I have ever read in my entire life. Funnier than Hitchhiker's Guide, funnier than any single Pratchett or Wodehouse. Funnier than anything. It's ostensibly a murder mystery, but mostly it's a hilarious portrait of an apathetic cynic adrift in his own life, caught up in bizarre circumstances beyond his control, and a showcase for Neilan's hysterical sense of humor. A lot of it is fairly mean humor; one of the characters, for example, is deaf, and the narrator mercilessly mocks her. But in an egalitarian way: it would be prejudicial not to mock her, he reasons, just because she's deaf. In the following excerpt, Doug is the narrator's dentist, and Marlene is the deaf dental assistant. Doug speaks first:

"I can't believe how quick you picked it up. Did you speak any sign language before you started coming here?"

"No, I did not," I said, while signing I hate you.

Marlene barked a laugh, then pressed her lips together as her face went red.

"That's great," Doug said, smiling. "Say something else."

"I speak sign language, but I am not deaf," I said, and signed I want to throw my shit at you.

Marlene was trying to strangle the laugh in her throat. She sounded like a gagged hostage whimpering for her life.

"How do you say 'I am a dentist?'" he asked.

I eat my shit, I signed, as Doug haltingly imitated me. Marlene couldn't hold it together. "HMAAA!...HMAAA!...HMAAA!" she blared in a series of atonal bursts....

"Why is she laughing?" Doug asked.

"I'll ask her."

Why do you have sex with my shit? I signed.

Stop it! Asshole! I'm going to get fired!

"She says when we speak sign language it's like we have lisps, and we use broken phrases, like immigrants. She says we talk like lisping immigrants...."

I eat my shit, Doug signed slowly to her, grinning.

And tears rolled down deaf Marlene's cheeks.
Soon we meet the narrator's stupendously perverted upstairs neighbor, Mobo, who is taking his pet guinea pig Ivan for a walk on a leash.

And they went up to his apartment, the guinea pig stiffening his tiny legs but unable to put up any real resistance. Mobo whispered several Spanish-sounding gibberish words as he dragged the terrified animal into the boudoir. Then he kissed Ivan harshly on his little mouth, and turned off the lights. And many, many laws of God and man were broken in the darkness.
Maybe that sounds awful to you. And frankly, I wouldn't blame you if it did. This humor isn't for everybody. But as for me: I laughed out loud frequently and uncontrollably while reading this book, often to the point of having to put the book down while gasping for breath, eyes watering, sides aching, waiting for the laughter to subside. Sometimes this happened several times a page. And for those of you who are in tune with this humor, and you surely know who you are, I shit you not: you must read this book. Right now. This is Neilan's first novel; I can not wait for his second.

--Max Barry, Company. Barry actually is quoted on the back of Neilan's Apathy. The two authors share several viewpoints on the American workplace, and its absurdities and iniquities. Company is more of a conventional satire than Apathy, but it's very clever and funny: what if a crazily unfair office workplace were actually a massive experiment, designed to see how workers rise or fall under varying conditions? Good stuff.

--P.G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Sally. I'll read anything I can find by Wodehouse (I must have gone through a good two dozen, minimum, by now), and I happened to find this in the discount bin at Border's. It's not Jeeves and Wooster, or Blandings Castle, but it's still typically solid Wodehouse entertainment.

--Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird. The night Vonnegut died, my mother told me she had acquired a couple Vonnegut hardback first editions (despite never having read or wanting to read any Vonnegut herself), and would I like them? Yes, very much, I said. Next morning, I woke up to news of Vonnegut's death. I'm not sure how, but I can't help feeling that I or my mother killed Kurt Vonnegut. Sorry. After that, I felt the least I could do was read the books my mother had given me. The first was Jailbird. I've read every Vonnegut (mostly during high school and college) up through Timequake, but I didn't remember anything of this book. I was prepared for it to be one of his lesser works. It was not. It was fantastic. Filled with the usual Vonnegut simplicity and incisiveness, it's the story of an accidental Watergate conspirator, but mostly it's about money and the labor system, and the many ways in which they are unfair and incomprehensible. When Vonnegut died, I mostly remembered him as a wickedly ironic cynic, but Jailbird, as much as any of his best novels, showcases the steadfast humanism at the core of his most painful plot twists, the humanity and the yearning for human decency at the heart of his most pathetic characters. Jailbird is a beautiful work of art, and Vonnegut was a beautiful artist.

Among Current Reading:

--Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday. I just began this collection of short stories, letters, essays, plays, and other miscellany. This was the second of the Vonnegut books my mother gave me. I have the feeling that I'm not going to stop here. In fact, I'll come right out and say it: in 2007, I will read every book Kurt Vonnegut ever published, both the majority of his works I've already read, and those few I haven't. I think I'll go chronologically from the beginning after I finish Palm Sunday. Next up: Player Piano, his first novel. (In case you were wondering -- and I doubt you were, but I'll tell you anyway -- my favorite Vonnegut, and probably one of my five favorite books ever, is Cat's Cradle.)

--Gary Shteyngart, Absurdistan. I picked this one up on the basis of good reviews and a good recommendation. I'm not very far into it. But it's reminding me very strongly of A Confederacy of Dunces so far, which is by no means a bad thing.

Back-Burnered Reading:

--Neal Stephenson, The Confusion. After conquering Quicksilver, I thought I had the momentum to get through the second part of Stephenson's Baroque Cycle without much problem. But I got bogged down again, as I did so many times in Quicksilver. What I intended to be a brief break in reading The Confusion, to breeze through Apathy, has turned into a full stop. I'll pick it up again soon, I'm sure -- say, in a week or two -- but for now, it's on hold.

Wow! That's a lotta damn books! Don't I watch TV anymore?? Why yes, yes I do. Currently I'm Watching the season 4 DVD of Futurama. I picked it up for half-price at Wal-Mart this weekend. You know, in theory, I hate Wal-Mart and its censorship policies and its oppressive treatment of its workers, but god DAMN do they have good bargains! I am evil.

I'm Listening to Ted Leo's excellent new album, Living With the Living. It turns from scathing punk indictments of the Bush administration and the Iraq war to lovely, lyrical flights of fantasy on a dime. It's really tremendous. And I'm using one of its songs for Lyric of the Month as well: a snippet from the semi-spoken word anti-war anthem, "Bomb. Repeat. Bomb."

And lastly we come to the (no longer) secret, shameful, secondary Object of My Affection this month: Dana Perino, the Deputy (currently Acting) White House Press Secretary. I have no illusions: she works for the devil; she sells his administration's poisonous lies as the mother's milk of truth. She speaks with forked tongue; she excretes an ebony ichor, acid to the touch. But she's so darn cute! And she references Jon Stewart. Adorable!

And that's it! Thanks to those of you who have been checking back here, waiting for me to speak up again. I'm not abandoning this blog, not by a longshot! And thanks to those of you who are keeping good thoughts in your hearts while I deal with my family issues. Your support helps a great deal.

Hopefully I'll be back again before too long. Excelsior!

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