Saturday, July 20, 2013

About Books: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous to the FREAKING Hysterical.

My Books To Read shelf has gotten short shrift this year, as I've been catching up on my comic book reading instead.  I have read all of 2008 and am in the beginning of 2009, comic-book-wise.  At this pace I've got about five years worth of non-comic books staring at me reproachfully so I need to become independently wealthy soon and get to reading more.
{on a related note: Man Seeks Philanthropic Readers to Help Make Life Pillowy-Soft}
I have read two and a half books since whenever the last time was I posted a book review:
Tenth of December by George Saunders.  This is possibly the most amazingly brilliant book I have read in my entire life as far as I can remember right now.  I won't say I couldn't put it down, because the opposite is true.  I NEEDED to put it down quite frequently.  This is a book of short stories, each one of them an absolute masterpiece; each one of them containing the equivalent emotional impact of being hit by a cement truck.

This is an athletic read.  Each story is told sparely, and it's up to the reader to fill in all the little details.  There is no superfluous word, there is nothing in any of the stories that is not ABSOLUTELY NECCESSARY.  Oftentimes my hamster wheel brain struggled along with the story, working and working to discern what was actually going on and why.  Then (when Saunders doles out the last few pieces of relevant information) everything clicks and you understand the story (brilliant, joyous, horrifying, or funny - often all of the above), you are captured.  Saunders HAS you.  You are trapped in the intellectual and emotional reality he has created, and your own day-to-day reality is nowhere near as compelling.  IT'S THAT GOOD.
I occasionally thought I was going to abandon Tenth of December because I wasn't man enough to handle the heartbreak of watching characters who live at the mercy of the dubious quality of our humanity.  But I was always compelled to pick it back up, because who wants to say they weren't emotionally capable of finishing the most brilliant book they've ever read?
George Saunders (bless him) finished up with two lovely and redeeming stories.  
Because I read e-books now (which is still weird for me and feels like a betrayal of the rest of my book-reading life reading paper books - books books), I didn't know I was at the end of the book until I was done.  It was a shock that there were no more stories.  I felt robbed of the rest of what I could have read, had there actually been any more.  It was like I had made a friend in the afternoon and then found out in the evening that the friend had just died.  Only - it was a book.
If you're strong enough, READ TENTH OF DECEMBER.
Maybe it's my fault.  I wanted some lighter reading after George's book so I picked up My Horizontal Life by Chelsea Handler, with whom I am not familiar but the interwebs say she's freaking hilarious.

I'm a fan of people who detail their own personal shortcomings because we can all laugh at the stupid things we humans do, right?  Ite's why those Liberty Mutual commercials are so fun to watch.  Humans are hysterical, especially when we recognize how stupid we are and yet do our stupid human things anyway and have to live with the consequences.
Either I missed the parts where Chelsea was funny when detailing her own failings, or Chelsea missed all the parts where she was supposed to write things in a way that was funny.
I was not amused by this book.  I was not amused by Chelsea Handler's Chelsea character, her worldview, the things she said, or much of anything that happened to Chelsea in her book.  I found the Chelsea character to be shallow and repugnant and tiresome and not funny.
Maybe Chelsea is hysterical in real life but is just not good enough a writer to make me see how hysterically funny she is.
Maybe the second half of the book is deliriously fun, but I was done before I hit the halfway point.  ABANDON SHIP.
I laugh a lot.  I laugh at things nobody else thinks are funny, but if its funny to me then I'm sure as hell going to laugh at it.  Sometimes that makes me the @$$hole in the room.  Sometimes I have to LEAVE the room while under direct fire from LASER DEATH WIFE LASER GAZE.  Sometimes I even have to sleep on the couch.

But I don't really laugh out loud at books anymore.  I'll stop reading and look up from my book with a big smile and say "WOW . . .!" because for me that means "I just read something really really fantastic and it was so much better and different than the things I think to myself that are funny, but THAT - that thing I just read?  THAT was pretty damn good!"
And then Everything's Perfect When You're a Liar by Kelly Oxford., which starts out fairly good (amusing self-absorbed bratty kid) to meh (okay dumb teenager) to "hey that's pretty good and worth my time to read" to "damn, that was totally good", to the David Copperfield chapter which was "Oh my God that is the most brilliantly honest and funny goddamn thing I have ever read in my entire life this year!"  
It is at THAT point that I know I will read every single word of the rest of the book even if it gets a little bit boring, and even if the rest of the book sucks (which it totally did NOT), I will still insist my friends read it even just for the David Copperfield chapter.  And also I will buy Kelly's next book.
In fact, I told my wife she had to read the David Copperfield chapter and she gave me her noncommittal grunt.  Later, I mentioned it again and she went all wifenuts and told me SHE KNOWS I want her to read it and this is the THIRD TIME I have told her to read it and STOP BUGGING.
I tried to tell her she was exaggerating because this was only the second time I had mentioned it and she didn't even speak, she just gave the the You're Stupid look and held up three fingers because even when I am You're Stupid, surely I can count three fingers.
[Later, when she was ready, my wife read the David Copperfield chapter and nearly peed herself.]
If you're reading this and haven't read Kelly Oxford's book, stop reading this and go read that instead.  It's better than this review you're reading.