The Joke’s Over by Ralph Steadman

November 29th, 2007 at 3:59 pm

I’m pretty obsessed with the life and work of Hunter S. Thompson. The most recent stop on my fascination train was Ralph Steadman’s memoir.

It’s subtitled “Bruised Memories: Gonzo, Hunter S. Thompson, and Me” so I was expecting the revelations of some puffy, purple contusion-memories. I wasn’t entirely disappointed. Steadman shares an interesting story with biting, unforgiving opinions to match. Five highlights:

1. “…and then there was Hunter, this magnificent outlaw, with jangling silver spurs on a pair of Converse Low basketball sneakers, whose prose style was peerless, but whose ability to write a novel eluded him to the end. He was his own best story.”

2. One of the many, many abrasive and unpleasant qualities that Hunter S. Thompson harbored was that he never wore socks, so his feet always smelled really, really bad.

3. WHERE AND HOW DID HE GET ALL THOSE DRUGS?!?!?!?!?!!??? Am I the only one who wants Hunter S. Thompson’s drug dealer to write a memoir????? Though Hunter himself became a dealer in Africa, supplying all the other journalists with “medicine” during the drawn out debacle of the Ali v. Foreman bout.

4. And evidently his son, Juan, becomes a Buddhist. Of course! It makes perfect sense!

5. “Gonzo is a strange kind of magic that appeals to the beast that lurks in the dark heart of most of us.”


And if your appetite for Hunter, like mine, is still not sated there is his wife’s The Gonzo Way: A Celebration of Hunter S. Thompson and the recently published Gonzo: The Life of Hunter S. Thompson.

Amazon’s Kindle

November 26th, 2007 at 1:59 am

So Amazon has released its own e-book reader device thingy called The Kindle.

Halfway through watching their video demonstration of it and having developed half a chubby in excitement, they then proceeded to explain the dictionary feature, which absolutely sealed the deal for me. Come across a word you want to look up while reading? No need to interrupt your reading to pull out a dictionary or computer, simply highlight the word and push a button to access the dictionary feature, and boom, you’re now that much smarter.

It holds 200 books and does not use back light to illuminate the text so it is just effective in bright light as darker and won’t hurt your eyes like a computer screen does. (Why don’t they use this technology for computer screens?)

You also have the ability to take notes on what you’re reading and to save your place. It is at the top of my Kwanzakahmas List. Is it as intimate and comfortable as books? I don’t know but I want one so I can find out.

Sony also has a portable reader system ebook device thingy with a lot less sexier name, the PRS-505.

Have companies still learned nothing about naming their products? It is about the brand. It is about the narrative, the story, the loyalty. Would we all have Blackberrys if they had been called XU-7921/2s?

An executive at Sony badly needs to read Wordcraft.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

November 22nd, 2007 at 12:57 am

I finally got around to reading this year’s highly lauded A Long Way Gone.

“Africa breaks your heart.” That’s what David Denby of The New Yorker concluded at the very beginning of his review for “Blood Diamond,” drawing on the then recent releases of “Hotel Rwanda,” “The Constant Gardener,” “And The Last King of Scotland.”

I concur, having read Ishmael Beah’s memoir relatively close on the heels of Dave Eggers’ What is the What and Beasts of No Nation. I suppose I could complete the cycle with This Voice in My Heart, and The Devil Came on Horseback, among others, but my heart is already fragile enough.

Beah’s book of tragic descent into war as a 12-year-old is striking for many reasons on several levels. It seems to be placed somewhere between Keroauc’s “On the Road” and McCarthy’s “The Road.” It illuminates an unsettling postmodern world highly influenced by drugs and western war movies. It is a road novel, but very much more about coming of age and a loss of innocence in a demented, perverse, unfortunate, shameful (I can’t stop!) modern world.

Reminiscent of the scene in Jarhead when the marines whoop and holler to Apocalypse Now, Beah relates that, “We watched movies at night. War movies, Rambo: First Blood, Rambo II, Comando, and so on, with the aid of a generator or sometimes a car battery. We all wanted to be like Rambo; we couldn’t wait to implement his techniques. When we ran out of food, drugs, ammunition, and gasoline to watch war films, we raided rebel camps, in towns, villages, and forests. We also attacked civilian villages to capture recruits and whatever else we could find.”

Beah’s prose is dominated by plain and simple descriptive language, a style that portrays one of the story’s more interesting elements: the amazing ability of people to quickly adapt. It is truly an admirable quality for a usually deficient species: “Oh. We’re being raided. Our way of life that we’ve known for years is over and our entire family is dead. We better move on.” Survival. It is captivating. Especially the way Beah shares it. He does so with simple eloquence and an appropriate and refreshing lack of sentimentality and drama that does not betray any severity and immediacy. Whereas Beasts of no Nation has a very stylized voice to accompany the similarly frenzied content, and What is the What takes a more straightforward collage-combining-Memphis Belle-esque everything goes into it approach, Long Way Gone has a very simple narrative voice and structure that realistically compliments the haunting, intense events portrayed. While this approach is abrupt, disjointed, and rough around the edges at times, it rings as absolutely authentic.

As in What is the What and Beasts of No Nation, Beah’s story is impressive in how it raises the stakes. Just when you, the reader, think things have gotten so bad that they couldn’t possibly get any worse, they do.

And it breaks your heart. All over again.

Iran vs. The Whores

November 16th, 2007 at 4:19 pm

With the film adaptation of his magnificent “Love in the Time of Cholera” now in theatres, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s most recent book, “Memories of My Melancholy Whores,” is making news in Iran with that backwards country pursuing censorship and a puritanical ignorance of art.

“Memories” was initially published in Iran with the title “Memories of My Melancholy Sweethearts” and sold out 5,000 copies in three weeks before angered religious conservatives demanded the book be banned. The ministry of culture and Islamic guidance then refused to issue a permit for the book’s reprinting.

Ohhhhhhhhh! Ministry of culture and Islamic guidance?…….creepy……..You think “1984″ is banned in Iran too?

The first sentence of “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” reveals the book’s primary plot: “The year I turned ninety, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”

Despite such a rather lurid premise, the slender book is touching and warm. In the hands of a Master such as Marquez, the crude plot device becomes not so and the book becomes about so much more than some creepy old guy trying to bone a 14-year-old. The book is worldly and knowing, as would be expected from an aging, accomplished writer such as Marquez. I’ve read it. I wish Iran could too.

I feel sincerely bad for Iran’s readers that they must live under this and far worse oppression. In America, we live under the oppression of capitalism, slaves to the whims of the market and therefore miss many, many great and wonderful books (ideas, thoughts) simply because they do not sell or are deemed unsellable. But somehow I do feel that Iran has it worse, that some stodgy man sees a book with the word “whore” in the title, reads the premise, and excises the book from an entire country’s library.

Don’t you get the feeling that irony is lost on a major portion of this world?

The Salon

November 15th, 2007 at 6:44 am

I’ve just finished a deeeeelightful little graphic novel, Nick Bertozzi’s “The Salon.”

It’s an entertaining romp that rhapsodizes on the art and relationships of those modernists who rocked the art world (Picasso, Braque, Gertrude and Leo Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Matisse, Gaugin). I’m immediately inclined to call Bertozzi’s work “cute” but resist because it is too well done to be simply encapsulated by a term that more properly describes girls, puppies, and little pieces of pizza. Bertozzi takes the real life relationships and pursuits of these artists and throws in a murder mystery for a plot, a splash of absinthe for a good device, plenty of decent art jokes, and a thoroughly enjoyable characterization of a young Picasso to make a hell of a story.

I really appreciated Bertozzi’s aesthetic, declining to go the obvious route and let the era’s modern style invade his own story. Instead, and for the better I think, the lines are bold and certain in a very realistic style. Each portion of the story has its own light hue with muted, warm primary colors making for an inviting, comfortable read.

But don’t give it to the little kids this holiday season. In yet another Indecent-Material-to-a-Minor-Case, the owner of a comic book store in Georgia is fending off charges for giving away a preview copy of The Salon.

Who’s going to jail for putting up those slutty perfume billboards? Or mailing me those Victoria’s Secret catalogs?

The Golden Compass Hates God

November 13th, 2007 at 4:53 am

THE greatest email I’ve received EVER, next to all those great deals on Viagra, was from a friend recently with this link:

Seriously, check it out. It’s pretty entertaining reading.

Phillip Pullman has written a trilogy of young reader’s books called His Dark Materials, the first of which, The Golden Compass, is being released as a movie starring Nicole Kidman. Evidently, Pullman is a “proud” athiest, “hates” C.S. Lewis and Chronicles of Narnia, belongs to secular humanist societies, and has been quoted from an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald as saying, “My books are about killing god.”

I really don’t know where to begin. Or how to start. And how I could possibly finish.

Aren’t The Chronicles of Narnia and His Dark Materials the same thing?

Furthermore, haven’t we already been through all this BS with Harry Potter?

When will you people grow up?

Enough with the silliness! Go to your room!


November 13th, 2007 at 4:07 am

It is difficult to fathom the passing of someone so great, so relevant, so significant; so writerishly.

You write The Great American Novel. You found the Village Voice. You win Pulitzers. And you still die.

Jeez, it seems like it was only yesterday that I was watching BookTV and seeing Norman give a dual interview with Gunter Grass. Those were the days! Now they have wilted and succumbed to the harsh, whimpering winter of reality…

(Speaking of hot interviews, can we please get Jhumpa Lahiri to moderate an interview of Zadie Smith and Marisha Pessl???)

Unlike the recent passing of great American writers who I’ve read, like Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Norman Mailer did not die from a fall nor a self-inflicted gunshot wound, but nonetheless and regardless, I look forward to exploring and ingesting his greatness posthumously. Public Library: here I come!

They say that deaths come in threes. I have recently endured the death of an Uncle, a Grandmother, and a Cat, so it must be true. Appropriately so I suppose, following the death of a writer of such stature as Norman Mailer comes news of the passing of none other than Donda West, the mother of rapper Kanye West.

Yes, she’s an author.

I haven’t read Mailer. You haven’t read West.

So Norman is 1. Donda is 2. Who will be three? My money is on Tom Wolfe.

It’s a Petty Regurgitator’s Market

November 6th, 2007 at 6:06 pm

Paul Coelho, beloved author of one of those books that only non-readers read, The Alchemist, has a new book out.

Except it’s not really a new book.

It’s merely a “collection of selected quotes from Paulo Coelho’s impressive body of work.”

Oh. And it’s “a beautiful book with four–colour artwork by the renowned Norwegian artist Anne Kristin Hagesaether.”

Nothing garners respect and admiration for writers like having their work chopped up into little bits and illustrated like a children’s book. Publishers are really trying to make a buck with the shopping season upon us with this weak formula. It’s the equivalent of music labels jamming greatest hits, live albums, and other assorted compilations and collaborations down the consumer’s throat.

And this “chop-and-illustrate” tactic is only slightly worse than the mildly irritating method of taking a columnist’s already written work and compiling them into one volume. Those guilty of such include Ask A Mexican! and Rick Reilly.

Columnists are such vain, pompous, overly-opinionated individuals.

I want to be a columnist.