in which the author discusses five books he’d read, if time permitted.
1. Freedom: A Novel, by Jonathan Franzen.
A heretofore unknown, unhyped author who has no history with Oprah Winfrey, no coverage in the New York Times Book Review or Time, and who never has written throwaway book of essays to tide readers over for the decade he takes to write a novel makes his astonishing debut.
2. Zero History, by William Gibson.
Some cool kids in high school smoked pot and read Gibson’s Necromancer (No, wait! Shit! I meant Neuromancer! Necromancer is some fantasy-role playing shit, or maybe a forgetten Megadeth album.) and started wearing mirrored aviator sunglasses and long black trench coats and talking about the future in a way that didn’t seem fun like Star Wars or Star Trek but boring and scary like George Orwell‘s 1984 or George Lucas‘s THX 1138—only worse because of the reflective aviator sunglasses and long black trench coats. The only way to escape them was, unfortunately, by smoking a different kind of pot with a different kind of bad influence underneath the bleachers during football pep rallies.
3. True Prep: It’s a Whole New Old World, by Lisa Birnbach and Chip Kidd.
I used to hate preppies, but, strangely, also dressed like them. I also hated J.A.P.s (“Jewish American Princesses”), but, yet, in many ways, was one. At different times of my life, I’ve also hated hippies and Catholics and members of misguided, no-chance-of-winning “third” political parties, but, at different times of that same life, been a hippie, or a Catholic, or a member of misguided, no-chance-of-winning “third” political party. What does it all mean?
4. “Grandpa Told Me”: Things Your Father Meant to Tell You, by Joe Baker.
Though Ulysses was initially published by a press so small that James Joyce may as well have run it himself, bookstores and book critics often derisively sniff when presented with Xeroxed .pdfs of a local author’s self-produced, outsider art-ish prose. Baker’s curiously-titled “Grandpa Told Me’: Things Your Father Meant to Tell You” ain’t Ulysses, but my copy came in the mail with a free handkerchief [since Baker, a lover of punctuation marks and bold text, advises readers to, “[w]hen dressed, always have the following items with you: a clean white cotton handkerchief (every man should carry one – and use it)”], making sniffing easier.
5. Assholes Finish First, by Tucker Max.
Max has been proven a douche and seems mainly to exist to get wasted and get laid, but how’s that any different than the careers built by Charles Bukowski or Ernest Hemingway? Then again, Max is no Bukowski or Hemingway. Then again, I’ll bet Assholes Finish First is way more fun to read than, say, To the Lighthouse. Then again, I guess deriving entertainment from an aesthetic that’s not only fundamentally sexist, but whose main attraction is sexism is, well, sexist. Yet, I might derive entertainment from that aesthetic anyway, and feel guilty about it. Is that okay? Or, if it isn’t okay, does it somehow become okay to inform my readers that I’ve also read Simone de Beauvoir‘s The Second Sex and Sylvia Plath‘s The Bell Jar and enough Camile Paglia to melt my brain? Or is that, somehow, worse? Also, last night I had a dream that I opened up an obscure drawer at the back of my refrigerator and, hidden there behind wilted asparagus and rotten broccoli was a frozen embryo (I know—frozen embryos don’t belong in the refrigerator, obviously) that said “Help me!” What does it all mean?