Lollygagger’s #CBR5 Review #21: You’re Not Doing It Right: Tales of Marriage, Sex, Death and Other Humiliations by Michael Ian Black

This is my first memory of Michael Ian Black.

240 Dollars Worth of Pudding

You may be more familiar with his work as one of the funnier talking heads in the VH1 “I Love the” series of shows.

Based on my love of his work on The State and his aforementioned VH1 run, I thought I would check out the audio version of his book “You’re Not Doing It Right.” I was not aware he had written other books until referenced one, but based on this work I might check one out of the library to read.

This particular book was not engrossing, although I don’t think that it’s because it wasn’t well-written. I think I would have enjoyed it more as a written book, where I could read a full chapter at a time when I had the chance, instead of listening in chunks a few days apart. The book jumps around quite a bit, and while that worked for me in other similar books, for some reason I wasn’t feeling it in this one.

As I mentioned, Mr. Black has written other books, and I’m not sure what was included in those. This one focuses a lot on how he met his wife, what their courtship was like, their marriage, and their intense fights. It’d be really interesting to get her perspective on some of his characterizations of their marriage. He is not necessarily kind to himself (he seems pretty aware of his shortcomings) but still – I wonder how she feels about this.

Some chapters were just sort of meh, but many did really touch me, either with a lot of laughter or some pretty serious shit. His take on his dad’s death when he was a young boy was really interesting, sad and sweet, while his frankness about dealing with a colicky infant was refreshing, funny, and a little heartbreaking. And, as expected, the death of a family pet was enough to rouse some tears.

So what is it that kept me from fully connecting? Perhaps I’m just distracted. Perhaps the way I listened to it didn’t do it justice. I can’t give it the higher ratings but I definitely think it is worth a read. And even though his delivery is fantastic, unless you’re going to be strict about stopping after a chapter and not in the middle, I’d say read the book instead of listening to it.

Kash’s #CBR5 Review #14: Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex by Erica Jong

When I read about this book in an issue of Bust magazine, I was very excited. I bought it immediately but it took me at least a year to sit down and read it. The pretext of this collection of essays is about the best sex you’ve ever had. Whether fictional or non-fictional. Each author was asked to write about sex, and there were various various differences from author to author.

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geekchicohio’s #CBR5 review #3: Consider The Lobster by David Foster Wallace

So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the US: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is the whole thing just a matter of personal choice?

–David Foster Wallace, “Consider The Lobster”
 
NATURAL TALENT
 

There is a point near the end of David Foster Wallace’s essay “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” where DFW speculates that the platitudes and cliches that spout endlessly from the mouths of athletes do so because the athletes themselves actually experience reality in the simplistic manner these catchphrases attest. Perhaps Natural Athletic Talents are just that because, in the moment of trial, what goes through their heads is quite literally nothing at all. They tell us “You just gotta take it one ball at a time,” because that’s the true and exhaustive explanation of events as they see them.

It’s fair to assume that a major league scout or a coach selects a NAT because he understands that their specific outlook is devoid of distraction and singular of focus, and that this precision is exactly what is needed on the field. The truly great athletes, that is, the NATs, do what they do because they experience the doing simply and effortlessly and without question or distraction.
THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN A GENIUS AND A NATURAL
 
From the representation of his work offered by the collection Consider The Lobster, it seems to me that magazine editors tapped David Foster Wallace again and again because his is a mind that functions in exactly the opposite way in which he describes the mind of a NAT. Looked at from the perspective of their likely original pitches many of these pieces possess a similarly mundane and thankless starting point. “Review this dictionary.” “Review this biography on Dostoevsky.” “Go to the Maine Lobster Festival.” “Go to the AVN Awards.”
DFW is not a NAT because he is incapable of simply doing what is asked of him in a way that is effortless and free of distraction. DFW may, however, be a genius because he can be distracted and can be willing to follow that distraction well past the original assignment.  Many of the pieces in Consider The Lobster are the result of a man who, when given a simple path to follow, had a remarkable ability to turn a corner and start sprinting in a different direction. A direction that usually ended in profundity.
SHOWING INSTEAD OF SAYING
 
When tasked with reviewing a remarkable biography of Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky, DFW discovered in the writing of FMD a certain bravery and reality that he felt much of the writing of modernity lacks.  Dostoevsky wrote believable 3-D characters who lived in complex, interesting, and engrossing plots. Unsatisfied with just these twin achievements in literature, FMD also wrote about the most important themes in human life: love, death, war, suffering et al.
Wallace was not content to simply explain the greatness of FDM, or even that of his biographer. (See already how far from our initial premise we’ve come?) He instead felt it important to contrast the fact that FMD wrote brilliantly and with importance while modern writers would be inclined to use sarcasm or ironic distance or even tricks of formatting to allow themselves to touch on such themes without having to, gasp, address them with honesty and sincerity.  What DFW decides, instead, to do, is contrast the import of Dostoevsky with the inconsequence and insufferability that results when a writer tries to poke heavy themes with a stick from a distance. And he does this by touching these themes in just the way he’s decrying: “sticking the really urgent stuff inside asterisks as part of some multivalent defamiliarization-flourish or some such shit.”
CONSIDER CONSIDER THE LOBSTER
 
Ultimately it is the title essay that most aptly displays for the reader the greatness of David Foster Wallace. No less a publication than Gourmet Magazine commissioned our author to travel to the storied Maine Lobster Festival. The MLF has a storied existence, both in the pages of Food & Wine and in the B-roll of Red Lobster commercials. The affair itself, however, seems unfortunately a bit more like something from the latter.
After learning from natives that they don’t really attend and seeing for himself that the place is crass and disgusting and commercialized and bloated, DFW simply begins to run out of story. With more column inches to fill than he has so far, but likely fewer to fill than he would ultimately require, DFW turns his corner. The piece devolves into a brutal and stomach-churning examination of the creature at the very heart of the matter. Is it all right that we boil these creatures alive? They seem not to like it.
You need not care much for the lobster, but you will be forced to consider him. Homarus americanus. All evidence seems to lead us irreconcilable to the fact that the lobster feels pain despite the fact that it would be much more expedient and convenient if it did not.
Likewise, all evidence seems to lead us to the fact that an expedient completion of a simple assignment was beyond the reach of David Foster Wallace, and we are much the better for it.
2013

MartinJ’s #CBR5 review #1: Mythologies by Roland Barthes

roland

Barthes’ collection of essays exploring the mythology in popular culture is his most famous work. Written each month from 1954 to 1956, the collection was a best seller in France in 1957 and has become one of the most well known works of semiotics (for instance, although only a few of the essays deal with the cinema, my film theory lecturer insisted it was the one book we should all read). The essays themselves differ in length (12 pages is devoted to wrestling as a spectacle of suffering; soap powders and detergents get 2) but the variety and humor make it a quick read. While the insights into society are perhaps less valuable to someone not living in 1950s Paris, and some of the contemporary references are dated, surprisingly little has changed, especially when it comes to advertising, and as an approach to decoding modern life Barthes’ examination of the signs and symbols all around us are still useful.

It is hard to choose a favorite. ‘The Romans in Films’ deals with fringes and sweaty faces as signs for Roman-ness in cinema. ‘Wine and Milk’ and ‘Steak and Chips’ examine the importance and significations of these foods to the French. ‘Blind and Dumb Criticism’ and ‘Neither-Nor Criticism’ are essential reading for all critics, dealing with common faults even the best suffer from constantly (that the subject of criticism is ineffable; the critic confesses they are too stupid to understand something philosophical; that criticism has to walk a middle line politically). Most of these are only a few pages long yet they identify so well and succinctly these problems that I’ve felt but would struggle to articulate myself. Barthes’ analysis will also start you questioning what you see around you.

Paris_Match_-_child_soldier_cover

It is the concluding segment, ‘Myth Today’, that binds the book together into a coherent theory. While it uses far more technical terms and so might be more difficult for a lay reader to follow, it is valuable because it shows how these simple signs become signifiers themselves and attain the status of ‘myth’. For example, in the picture above the saluting black soldier is a signifier of many concepts (French, military, ethnicity), and through these concepts becomes myth, chosen by the magazine to show

that France is a great Empire, that all her sons, without any colour discrimination, faithfully serve under the flag, and that there is no better answer to the detractors of an alleged colonialism than the zeal shown by this Negro in serving his so-called oppressors

The ideology perpetuated by this image is not ‘present’, explicit, and so it is a modern ‘myth’. While I would have liked Barthes to have written more about the cinema before his untimely death in 1980, he did publish a collection about photography, Camera Lucida, that, after revisiting Sontag’s On Photography, I’ll tackle sometime this year.

Kash’s #CBR5 Review #2: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

I somehow thought that including a picture I took myself of an actual book would be more powerful but I'm not feeling it.

I somehow thought that including a picture I took myself of an actual book would be more powerful but I’m not feeling it.

I first got into David Sedaris about five years ago, when I made the mistake of reading Me Talk Pretty One Day on an airplane ride and spent the entire time trying to stifle giggles unsuccessfully. It’s shameful that it’s taken me so long to read When You Are Engulfed in Flames, but the result is no less pleasing.

Sedaris’ books are collections of stories that he writes about his life. More specifically his family, his longtime partner and their world travels, and the copious amounts of drugs he used in his younger years. I always find them ridiculous but relatable, and When You Are is no different. There are moments when I laugh so hard it hurts, and others when I feel sorry for him.

The last third(ish) of the book is about his decision to quit smoking and it’s both entertaining and informative. He describes to the reader that he started smoking in a culture that is so different than ours now. Now we have clean air zones, smoking bans, and the disintegration of the smoking section. As a non-smoker I never thought of the difference it would make to a traveler who can no longer smoke in their hotel, or having to smoke in those disgusting tanks they have in airports. Some people would say it serves them right, but whatever.

Overall it is just as enjoyable as Sedaris’ other books. I laugh out loud on every page and my boyfriend thinks I’m crazy. But at least I’m in the privacy of our home and not crying from laughter on a plane by myself. If you haven’t read any of his work, I would suggest starting with Holidays on Ice and moving up from there.

TheGreatUnstainer’s #CBR5 Review #01: Books v Cigarettes by George Orwell

Of all the early 20th Century writers, George Orwell continues to be an intriguing character.  Despite being a socialist, his two most famous books, Animal Farm and 1984, caused him to become the darling of the modern libertarian, of the tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, and of the perpetual adolescent of the Internet.

But this popular caricature of Orwell as the friend to the neo-con is difficult to reconcile with the Orwell who emerges from his essays.  Books v Cigarettes — a collection of seven essays published as part of Penguin’s Great Ideas series — presents some of Orwells musings on society, particularly his relationship with the intelligentsia.  The collection paints a picture of an Orwell who is at once both a self-conscious outsider — almost desperate to be acknowledged as a contrary, free, and independent thinker — and a painfully self-conscious product of middle class England.

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