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In which Justin Moyer’s editor fails to make a provision for this item, which comes in like clockwork, even when Justin Moyer’s editor is on vacation. —-Justin Moyer’s editor
1. Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, by Justin Green (with an introduction by Art Spiegelman).
A 9″ x 12″ painstaking McSweeney’s reproduction of this classic underground comic about Catholic guilt forces me to temporarily ignore my loathing of graphic novels (especially autobiographical ones), as does my own Catholic guilt. (Prospective graphic novelists take note: do not expect your inky treatises about epilepsy or Che Guevara to be included in future “Five Books I’d Read” blog posts, even though I’m an epileptic and, at appropriate cocktail parties, a Marxist.)
2. A Good Talk, by Daniel Menaker.
Gentleman of the J-Dating community: it is not acceptable to show up puffy and fat to a blind “in-tribe” encounter and then, with pimply hubris, over-enthusiastically rant about your career, college fraternity, and love of particular NFL sports teams at a disinterested, disillusioned, 30-something female (a strong Jewish woman so desperate to breed that, after striking out on eHarmony, Match.com, and yes, that den of iniquity and Starbucks’ bathroom BJ’s called Nerve, she red-facedly signed up with—-oy vey!—-a Jewish dating service at her sister-in-law’s recommendation) without bothering to ask her what she does for a living, or what books she might be reading, or whether she likes the subpar Buca di Beppo pasta primavera you so generously paid for half of. Perhaps a book about conversation would, at least, get you to 3rd base?
3. Meditations on Living, Dying, and Loss: The Essential Tibetan Book of the Dead, edited by Graham Coleman.
Dying is hard. That’s why we need the guidance of the shoeless man who claimed to be the son of God or, failing that, the guidance of the god that shoeless man called Father (though, depending on who you ask, this god might, like Michael Jackson, insist that “the kid is not my son”), or, failing that, the guidance of a merchant from Mecca who proclaimed himself a prophet and whose followers, when trying not to kill believers in the shoeless man or his possible father, are busy trying not to be killed themselves, or, failing that, a mass-produced version of Eastern mysticism available in chain bookstores that, though it can’t be appreciated or understood outside of its own cultural context, inexplicably gives us comfort.
4. The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli, translated by Tim Parks.
Whenever a political leader does something really bad—-like lie, abrogate political freedom, or kill someone to consolidate power—-people always talk about The Prince. So, although life would probably be better if no one had ever read The Prince and Niccolo Machiavelli had never written it, here’s a new paperback edition.
5. The Cry of the Sloth, by Sam Savage.
Much like black holes may absorb enough energy to recreate the low-entropy state that preceded the Big Bang and, by doing so, create another universe indistinguishable from our own, books about writerly angst (“Herzog,” “The Shining,” Bukowski) often sell a lot of copies, leading to the eventual end of writerly angst and, hopefully, the demise of the genre.
6. Change By Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation, by Tim Brown.
I’m really glad we have that hazy discipline that so conveniently straddles the words of art and commerce called “design.” That way, when something isn’t worth much (efficiency condominiums, Macintosh computers, American cars), they can be gussied up, made sleek and relevant, and sold for higher prices. Because I really need the economy to keep functioning until I can turn a profit on this Bank of America stock, pay down my ARM, and sell my obsolete IPod on eBay so I can afford to buy a Chevy Volt in 2010.
7. Us: Americans Talk About Love, by John Bowe.
What we talk about when we talk about love isn’t really love, usually, but sex. Of course, when we talk, we might talk about love more than I think, because I usually tune out when we talk about love, and tune in when we talk about sex. But maybe, what we talk about when we talk about sex really is a kind of love—-a sloppy, sticky, down-and-dirty kind of love. In that case, let’s talk about love, and make it quick, because the housemates are coming home, and you know that one of their dirty dogs is going to open the door to our room and lick our feet again.
8. I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone and No One Can Pay, by John Lanchester.
I’m not really sure if there was a financial crisis in 2007/2008. I mean, I keep reading all the relevant newspapers—-The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer—-and visiting all the relevant websites – bbc.com, cnn.com, msnbc.com—-but no one ever writes about or refers to any kind of housing bubble, bailout, Troubled Asset Relief Program, fading 401(k), high unemployment rates, crumbling industrial infrastructure, green jobs, expansion of Federal Reserve power, or Great Recession. And, whenever I go to a bookstore, and dig through the non-fiction section, no one—-absolutely no one!—-has written a book with a lengthly subtitle about why the economy collapsed, or when it might collapse again, or what I should have done to prepare for a collapse in the past, or what I could do to prepare for a collapse in the future. Which raises an important question: What planet is John Lanchester living on, and why has he written this singular, unique, unexpected, unprecedented book?
9. Hold On to Your Dreams: Arthur Russell and the Downtown Music Scene, 1973-1992, by Tim Lawrence.
God—-New York in the late 1970s and 1980s…what a time it was. I remember when I lived right across the street from what’s now Kate’s Joint at 2nd and B. Back then, Kate’s was a crackhouse! But, goddamnit, those were the days. You see, what I did was, I played some really, really, really chromatic music—-I was initially influenced by Schoenberg and Webern—-but I went to a disco one night and was like, “Fuck! The shit I’m writing is really, really, really boring. All I have to do is put some tight four-on-the-floor, boots-and-pants drumbeats under my dreary shit, and BANG! If I don’t instantly become a legend, I’ll be a legend in 20 years when a bunch of white dudes get tired of playing grunge and need to find a way to compete with R&B.” Let me tell you, “downtown” isn’t just a place—-it’s also an adjective.
10. The Belly Fat Cure: Discover the New Carb Swap System and Lose 4 to 9 lbs Every Week, by Jorge Cruise.
To the big grrrl I saw at National Airport “feeding” her infant child purple Gatorade in a bottle: I regret to inform you that, contrary to popular opinion, international reputation, and peer-reviewed medical research, America isn’t the hottest, healthiest, thinnest, sexiest, heart-attack-and-diabetes-free nation on Spaceship Earth, but instead one of the fattest, pimpliest, most obese, junk-in-the-trunkiest countries on an otherwise relatively thin (and, in many places, starving, and not from a lack of purple Gatorade) globe. Now, I don’t know much about your child. Perhaps your infant is a world-class athlete. Perhaps your infant is training for the 2012 Olympics. Perhaps your child hopes to challenge Michael Phelps at the butterfly stroke and, if that little baby just trains for a couple more hours every day and drinks a little bit more purple Gatorade, he might really, really have a chance at trouncing that pot-smoking Baltimorean once and for all. But if, as I suspect, your infact does not perspire 10 to 15 pounds of water weight per workout and is not in immediate need of electrolytes, you might want to consider—-just consider—-purchasing the aforementioned book for your infant’s third birthday. Because nobody likes a fat-ass for a seesaw partner.
11. Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, by Janet Poppendieck.
You’ve gotta love the high-school cafeteria. All the John Hughes cliques are represented: Geeks, Jocks, Gearheads, Preppies (a.k.a. “J.A.P.s” for the politically incorrect), Play Fags (also not-P.C.), Hippies, Greasers and, always in two distinct areas, and always near the cafeteria’s exit, Blacks and Asians. Just think—-all these different kinds of people, eating pizza on Monday, meatloaf on Tuesday, hamburgers on Wednesday, hot dogs on Thursday, and cheesesteaks on Friday, and washing it all down with Cherry Coke. That’s fucking America.
12. All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris.
I didn’t read any of these books that the HBO Series True Blood is based on. Do I have to if I want to be part of the cultural conversation? If so, the conversation is exhausting. Time to move to a commune where there’s no electricity, no running water, and no True Blood.
13. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, by Gretchen Rubin.
A prequel to The Pessimism Project: Or, Why I Spent Twenty-Five Years Battling Hangovers Every Morning, Cleaning Up After My Three Whining Brats, Irresolutely Avoiding Conflict, Reading Sartre, and Generally Wishing I’d Dressed More Modestly and Slept with Fewer People.
14. Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage, by Elizabeth Gilbert.
“Hey, baby. What’s up? What’s new, pussycat? You’re looking mighty sexy. What’re you reading there? A new book about marriage by Elizabeth Gilbert. Shit! That’s a serious book, baby. I’m just sitting over here, minding my own business, reading this Adam Sandler autobiography. Elizabeth Gilbert, huh. You know, I was going to read Eat, Pray, Love, and I picked it up one day in the bookstore, and I was going to buy it, but then I thought, ‘Hey, man, you shouldn’t read this; this book is mainly for the ladies.’ So I put it right down and wandered over to the business section and bought C+ Plus Programming for Dummies instead. That book changed my life. But I want you know I think it’s cool that you’re reading books about marriage and shit. Even books by Elizabeth Gilbert can be cool when they’re being read by someone as beautiful as you. And I want you to know that, even though I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love, that doesn’t mean I’m never going to read Eat, Pray, Love. I mean, if I was in the right mood, I’d totally be the type of dude to read Eat, Pray, Love, or even agree to see the movie Eat, Pray, Love. Because that’s the type of guy I am, baby. Fucking sensitive, and ready to fulfill your every fantasy, no matter how n-n-nasty it might be.”
15. Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money – That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not!, by Robert T. Kiyosaki. In a cruel twist of fate, books about finance, or, at least, self-help books about finance, are never read by the rich, but only by the poor. This is because the rich—-capitalism’s winners—-have no need to learn more about money, as they already have enough to buy Lamborghinis, send their progeny to Montesorri schools, and purchase popcorn at non-matinee film premieres. Meanwhile, if Marx is right (and capitalism is dependent upon the explotiation of surplus value), and Baudrillard is right (and capitalism’s continued exploitation of surplus value will result in capitalism’s collapse), and Hayek is right (and all necessary information about a market transaction is conveyed in the price), reading self-help finance books cannot help the poor become rich, as the poor are destined to become poorer as the rich become richer. Thus, this means that the only poor people who can hope to become rich are those who secure lucrative advances to write financial self-help books like Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money – That the Poor and the Middle Class Do Not! (Take the exclamation point as a Freudian symbol of impotence.)