Welcome to Book Club, which should really be called ‘Books I’ve Read’ because it’s not much of a club, is it?
So, welcome to Books I’ve Read, the column that will be replaced Monday by the return of our literature editor (the thrice-published author, Irishman and bookworm Chris Flynn) and his new upbeat column Monster Children Book Party! For now, though, you have me and my opinion that there are only two types of people that don’t read: the illiterate and assholes. Right now is not a good time to be either, so here are some books I reckon you should read.
Shriver: A Novel by Chris Belden – Shriver is a middle-aged shut-in living with his cat. One day an invitation to speak at a writer’s conference arrives in the mail, but Shriver isn’t a writer. Thinking it’s an old friend playing a prank, Shriver accepts the invitation and gets in way over his head when it’s revealed that the week-long conference is real and everyone believes him to be a famously reclusive author who happens to be named Shriver too. This was a really fun read. You basically spend the whole book waiting for Shriver to get busted for being an imposter as the stakes go up and up and up. Very funny. The ending was a little sugary and neat for me, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless. Two-million stars.
Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris – I don’t know how many times I’ve read David Sedaris’ books. I come back to them so often. Right now, I’m rereading Holidays On Ice and laughing at the bits I laugh at every damn time. God, he’s funny. The first essay in the book, ‘The Santa Land Diaries’, is the one that made him famous. Here’s a sample:
She was at a cash register, screaming at a customer. She was, in fact, calling this customer a bitch. I touched her arm and said, ‘I have to go now.’ She laid her hand on my shoulder, squeezed it gently, and continued her conversation, saying, ‘Don’t tell the store president I called you a bitch. Tell him I called you a fucking bitch, because that’s exactly what you are. Now get out of my sight before I do something we both regret.’
Heroes: Mortals and Monsters, Quests and Adventures by Stephen Fry – I read this one on Audible, so technically I didn’t read it. I listened to Stephen Fry read it. I could luxuriate in the sound of Stephen Fry reading the back of a jam jar. Heroes is the follow-up to Fry’s best selling Mythos, and it’s all about the Greek heroes and demi-gods (the offspring of the gods) and all the stuff they got up to way back… Well, never. They’re not real. Still, the stories of Perseus, Theseus, Heracles, and (my namesake) Jason and others are as rich and wonderful (full of wonder) as any you’d read today. In fact, most, if not all, of our contemporary stories can be traced back to these celestial blueprints, which makes me sound pretty fucking smart. I’m giving it 1022 stars across 40-something constellations.
J.D. Salinger: The Last Interview and Other Conversations – This book is so fucking good. The title is completely misleading (the ‘last interview’ is just a transcript of a legal deposition), but it’s a brilliant read because it’s all about Salinger being harassed by obsessive fans. In 1951 The Catcher in the Rye made J.D. Salinger a household name, which should’ve made him very happy, but instead, it turned him into a surly recluse who rarely granted interviews. By the end of the 50s, no one even knew where Salinger lived. One of the interviews in this book is written by a guy who risked being shot while tracking him down in 1979. The reviews for this on Amazon are pretty brutal (‘sets a new standard for biographical barrel scrapings’), but they’re all penned by know-all Salinger fanboys. Fuck ’em. Infinity stars.
Night Walks by Charles Dickens – Dickens was an insomniac. Did you know that? Me neither, but he was, and instead of laying there and staring at the ceiling, he went for long walks around London at night and wrote about what he saw: drunks, prostitutes, knife fights, babies smoking heroin, dogs playing cards, cockfights, etc. It’s interesting to read non-fiction by authors known better for their fiction because more often than not they’re quite funny. Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad (1911) is a hilarious book, as is John Steinbeck’s The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951). George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) is grim but very funny at turns, and Dickens’ Night Walks isn’t funny at all really. Check it out anyway. Lots of stars.