Saturday, September 27, 2008

The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes by the Editors of McSweeney's

With a wonderfully entertaining introduction by John Hodgman, The McSweeney’s Joke Book of Book Jokes is an interesting mix of hilarious and “huh?” collected from McSweeney’s Internet Tendency.

As with any compilation using a number of different authors, McSweeney’s… is hit or miss. The hits are hysterical.

In my opinion, the best, “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused by Insipid Brothers-In-Law” by Dennis DiClaudio. If you have any pet peeves you will completely relate to the growing intensity of this three page diatribe (I sure hope I'm using that word correctly). This is the one that made me laugh out loud.

Also, well worth a mention, “Yesterday’s Book Reports from Today’s Notables” by Wayne Gladstone. Here you’ll find Matthew McConaughey reporting on Alice in Wonderland, Ralph Nader on The Jungle, Matt Damon on A Separate Peace and Chris Hansen of Dateline‘s “To Catch a Predator” series, reporting on The Trial.

OK. A few more on the hit list. In no particular order:

Shakespeare’s Interrogatories, or Why He Wanted to Kill All the Lawyers” by Mike Warner and Michael Pardo
Unpublished Coda to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird” by Tim Carvell
Postcards from James Joyce to His Brother Stan" by Martin Bihl
Submission Guidelines for Our Refrigerator Door” by Christopher Monk
Social Security Denies Gregor Samsa’s Disability Claim” by Alex St. Andrews

and, last, but by no means, least (although it is the last entry in the book)

A Series of Letters to Homer from Thimines, Odysseus’s College Roommate” by William Hughes

Your humor may vary.

Because these are short entries, the really good news is that the bad don’t last too long. And, they make the good look that much better.

Title: The McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes
Author: The Editors of McSweeney's
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0-307-38733-2

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Swap by Antony Moore

Set in London and Cornwall, The Swap is the story of, Harvey, a slacker comic book store owner who, as a teen, traded a first edition Superman One comic to Bleeder Odd, a school outcast for a length of plastic tubing and then spent the next 20 years regretting that decision.

Harvey decides to attend his upcoming high school reunion in hopes of running into Bleeder and seeing if he can obtain this comic book, now worth thousands of dollars. All seems to be going as Harvey hoped until Bleeder’s mother is found dead in her basement and Harvey finds himself, not only a suspect, but feeling and acting guilty of this murder.

Antony Moore’s style, at times, reminded me of a 1950’s paperback murder mysteries. Told from the point of few of Harvey, the writing is a bit sparse and slightly noir. Just short of the half-way mark, however, the point of few suddenly started shifting, first to Harvey’s new girlfriend and then to the police officers investigating the murder. At first, this shift bothered me, I think because it was so far into the book before it began, but then, I found it added to the pulp mystery feel by following these characters independently from the others, especially the police.

Unfortunately, the main character of The Swap is not at all likable. It’s one thing to be a slacker but he is also rude to absolutely everyone, especially his parents and his assistant. I found the relationship between Harvey and his girlfriend, Maisie, completely unbelievable.

The mystery of the story, however, is quite well thought out and is an interesting twist on the genre. There were a couple of spots before the end of the book where I felt the story could easily be wrapped up and was surprised to see how much book was still left and Mr. Moore made good use of those pages. But when the story did come to an end it was quite abrupt and I felt it could, actually, have continued. A sequel in the works, perhaps?

Title: The Swap
Author: Antony Moore
Publisher: Bantam Dell
ISBN: 978-0-385-34234-6

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life by James Hawes

I picked this book up thinking, by the title, that it would be a good jumping off point for someone who has not studied Kafka and has yet to read any of his works. For the most part…I was wrong.

“Why You Should Read Kafka…” is written for those deeply familiar with “the K-Myth” and the theories of the Kafka experts.

The only “myth” with which I was familiar before reading this book was that Kafka wanted all of his works destroyed upon his death. According to Hawes this story is not true. However, he quotes a letter from Kafka stating just that fact. Hawes bases his understanding of the situation on a second letter from Kafka indicating that he only wants his personal writings, letters and such, destroyed, although, clearly, that wasn‘t done either. It’s a bit of nit-picking, I suppose, but, it would appear both interpretations are correct. Had Kafka died before the second letter, the first would have stood as his final word.

This is not a biography, strictly speaking. It’s a bit of a Bio/Lit Crit hybrid. Much of this book is dedicated to pointing out Kafka’s sex/non-sex life, from erotica that he kept in a locked bookcase to brothel visits to his correspondences with his fianc├ęs who he rarely ever saw. His letters to these women are great reminders as to why one should never put their personal relationships in writing. Kafka had definite, glaring, commitment issues. No doubt, the reason he wanted these letters burned upon his death.

James Hawes actually asserts a belief that there should be no author biographies, his reasoning being that people read these books and then intertwine the authors’ lives with their works. I guess that may be true for the scholars but certainly not for me. I tend to read biographies independently, almost as if I’m reading about fictional characters. The good news is this will never come to be.

Hawes does, however, mention often and with great respect Peter-Andre Alt’s “Der ewige Sohn“. Unfortunately, for me at least, this Kafka biography is not available in English. For a work written in English, he suggests Ritchie Robertson’s “Kafka: A Very Brief Introduction”. Now, I only need to decide whether to first give Kafka a shot or hunt down Robertson’s book.

I found the tone of this book to be a bit off-putting. Hawes’ “voice” is pompous and pithy to the point of distraction. The intended audience, however, may well appreciate this style.

If I understand the author correctly, he is trying to get through to the Kafka scholars that Franz Kafka was merely a man. No different, really, than any other man in his time or place. He had his quirks but really no different than any other man of his age and standing then or, even, now. And his books should be read as works of fiction, not high philosophy. For me, this is very comforting. The concepts of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and “The Trial” have always been intriguing to me but also highly philosophical, something I really need to be in the mood for. Now, I feel, I’ve been given permission to simply read and enjoy as, as Hawes points out, did the original readers of these works.

Author: James Hawes
ISBN: 978-0-312-37651-2