This column is dedicated to my long-suffering wife, a brilliant person, well-read and well-rounded, who took up with me no doubt expecting meetings of the minds, intelligent discussions of literature and art and philosophy. Instead she came to realize, alas, too late, that her man was hopelessly mired in cheesy crime novels, monster movies, three-chord garage bands, and a mountain of cheap and juvenile pursuits reeking with the stench of pop-culture effluvia.
It’s been the stated purpose of this column to seek out recent works of esoteric knowledge and literary merit to share with the discerning reader. To that end I won’t generally dwell on bestselling authors (everyone knows James Patterson doesn’t write most of his books but they still sell like crack) or books on politics (Republicans want to eat your babies; Democrats want to turn them into gay atheists—now you’ve read all of them), but rather I try to present books that have either blown me away with their beauty or shown me things I’ve never seen before.
Try as I might, however, I just can’t stay out of the junk pile. It’s just too damn entertaining in there. Here then are some of the other books I’ve read so far this year.
Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks, writing as Ian Fleming (Doubleday, 2008): Everybody knows Ian Fleming’s creation James Bond, so there’s no need to explain who he is. On the centenary of Fleming’s birth, his estate commissioned British novelist Sebastian Faulks to emulate Fleming’s style in this newest Bond adventure, which must have been interesting for Faulks because Fleming’s style was crap. Ian Fleming was a terrible writer, from his weird flavor-neutral prose to his fetishism for brand names and clothing labels, from his rampant racism and sexism to his obsession with games (whenever Bond enters a casino, pack a lunch; you’ll be there a while). But much like Mickey Spillane, Fleming was terrible in a way that was uniquely his own and nigh-impossible to duplicate—try reading John Gardner’s or Raymond Benson’s Bond novels and you’ll see what I mean. From the first page, however, Faulks pulls off the trick. Set during the Cold War, where Bond belongs, the novel puts 007 through all of Fleming’s favorite paces as Bond squares off against a deformed mad scientist with a megaweapon and an axe to grind, and one would swear one was reading something Fleming himself just ripped out between martinis. Bond fans will get this book. Everyone else should go back and watch Daniel Craig in Casino Royale again. It still rocks.
Money Shot by Christa Faust (Dorchester Publishing, 2008): One of the best things to happen to popular fiction in the last couple of years is the Hard Case Crime series of paperback potboilers from Dorchester Publishing, a mix of new and reprinted noir classics that hearkens back to the glory days of junk fiction when lurid covers hawked the beautifully brutal work of masters like Jim Thompson, Donald E. Westlake, and Richard S. Prather. And much like in those days, the Hard Case imprint has been a boys’ club until this year, with the release of Christa Faust’s sexy sledgehammer of a book. How noir is it? The book opens with Faust’s heroine, former porn star Angel Dare, stuffed in the trunk of a car and bleeding to death from multiple gunshot wounds. Unfortunately, all that does is make Angel mad, and we follow her as she cuts a swath through a seamy L.A. underworld of stroke flicks, white slavers, and more trigger-happy goons than you can shake a 9 mil at. This is the kind of stuff Tarantino wishes he had the stones to write—pure turgid goodness.
No Regrets: The Best, Worst, & Most #$%*ing Ridiculous Tattoos Ever by Aviva Yael and P. M. Chen (Grand Central Publishing, 2008): Yael and Chen are two of the minds behind the legendary “Dos and Don’ts” fashion column in Vice magazine, tasteless and viciously funny critiques of street fashion, done as captions under reader-submitted photos. Here they work the same dark magic in a book filled with pictures of some of the worst ideas people have ever had for permanent display on their bodies. Personally I’ve never understood those books filled with suggested tattoo designs—if you don’t already know what you want in a tattoo, then you obviously don’t need to get one—but here is a perfect guide to what not to get. If you’ve been pondering having Rodney Dangerfield or Pee-Wee Herman or a giant phallic rooster or an alien-invasion hellscape permanently etched into your hide, now you can see what it’d actually look like. And stop yourself. For the love of God, stop yourself.
Touch Me, I’m Sick: The 52 Creepiest Love Songs You’ve Ever Heard by Tom Reynolds (Chicago Review Press, 2008): There are only three lines in R.E.M.’s song “The One I Love”—two suggest that the singer is in love, then the third refutes it by calling the other person “a simple prop to occupy my time”. That’s it. Three lines, very simple and pretty clear, and yet couples still sing it to each other without a smidge of irony. “The One I Love” isn’t in Tom Reynolds’s book, but there are plenty of other examples of pop songs that should be creeping us out rather than inspiring us to karaoke. The natural first choice for über-creepy balladry, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police, is here (it’s about Sting stalking his ex—stop playing it at weddings!), as well as Radiohead’s “Creep”, the Beatles’ “Run for Your Life”, Eminem’s “Stan”, and a host of others, some well-known (I always thought 10cc’s “I’m Not in Love” was disturbing) and others not so much. Reynolds is a dead-on music critic, well-versed in music history and the nuts and bolts of musicianship, and his insights are frequently profound, but he’s at his best when his critiques go gonzo absurd. Certain chapters have him spelunking inside Alanis Morissette’s head, reproducing Eddie Vedder lyrics phonetically, and type-synching his way through Ashlee Simpson’s “Pieces of Me”. And he hates James Blunt as much as I do. All in all, Reynolds’ creepy love song to creepy love songs is just plain fun. And creepy.
Bigfoot: I Not Dead by Graham Roumieu (Penguin USA, 2008): The long-awaited (well, maybe not) sequel to Bigfoot’s earlier memoirs, In Me Own Words (2003) and Me Write Book (2005), is as heart-wrenching and moving as the first two volumes in Bigfoot’s ongoing saga of cannibalism, the pitfalls of media saturation, and the tragic price of fame. In his frank, confessional style, Bigfoot displays the kind of eloquent pathos Maya Angelou only wishes she could muster. One only wishes the Loch Ness Monster had been this forthcoming in her autobiography. (It’s actually a very funny book, and I’m just kidding about everything but the Maya Angelou part.)
There. Five perfectly good examples of enjoyable, fun, and decidedly uncerebral books with which to kill brain cells and while away the summer hours, and note that not a single one of them is a Jane Austen pastiche or vampire porn. Even when I let my id write the column, I can still perform a public service. I only hope that someday my wife will understand.
Originally published at Flagpole.