The Stack of Books Next to My Bed

stack-of-books2016-8

I read a lot, and keep a massive stack of books next to my bed that I’ve bought, found, or been given. I’ve got two main principles when it comes to reading:

  1. Reading should be fun.
  2. There’s a whole lot of different books out there to check out.

I write about each book I read in 99 words or less. Here’s hoping you find something you like.


THIS IS A BOOK BY DEMETRI MARTIN (2011)

Demetri Martin’s wordplay-filled humor translates ridiculously well to book form, as this collection of drawings and short humor shows.  His best pieces expose absurd situations with exaggeratedly forthright reactions (a man obsessed with speaking into a megaphone, a Rashomon-esque recount of a bee sting that includes inanimate objects) while the least successful ones run with simple concepts far longer than necessary, such as the list of bugle performances that all include reveille or the protagonists’ hospital where male action heroes get treated for superficial wounds.  Fortunately the hilarious far outweighs the lame, making this book a damned funny read.

Rating

The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (1988)

An aging butler in 1950s Britain goes on a road trip and reflects on the glory days of the British aristocracy that turn out to be not so glorious.  This novel works so incredibly because of its narrator, who speaks in a voice that’s both dignified and easy to read, reeking of unreliability and dry humor as he encounters the common folk.  Greater stakes, however, lie in its backstory of what democracy really means and how an entire working class could trade their independence for service to the upper classes—who are prone to more than a few shortcomings.

Rating

Election, by Tom Perrotta (1998)

A high school presidential election pits a goody two-shoes overachiever against a clueless jock and his rebellious younger sister, with one teacher viewing the race as a microcosm of who gets ahead in life and why.  Election shows how much these contests seem to matter in the moment but afterwards feel trite—it explores rivalries based on jealousy, social class, love, popularity, and the glory of the spotlight.  The novel’s rapid switches between narrators (often in mid-scene) are among the most effective I’ve ever read, and keep the novel constantly moving.  Read this even if you’ve seen the movie.

Rating

Nijigahara Holograph, by Inio Asano (2006)

Children speak of a monster in the drainage tunnel behind their elementary school while one of them sleeps in a coma; as adults, their paths cross in mysterious ways, and there are butterflies.

Nijigahara Holograph feels obliquely perplexing until it reaches its gut-wrenching conclusion, though on a second skim-through the connections felt clearer, revealing this to be a meticulously crafted manga that tells a powerful story.  The climactic reveal left me feeling uncharacteristically drained and somewhat disturbed—I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but that a manga can exert this kind of power means a lot.

Rating

Sinbad’s Seven Voyages and Other Stories From the Arabian Nights, retold by Gladys Davidson (1974)

Things I learned from reading/rereading these four stories:

  1. In the original tale, Aladdin, far from being a purehearted street rat, is an “idle, careless” boy who through the adventure of the lamp becomes a responsible, skilled adult man.
  2. The forty thieves dismember Ali Baba’s greedy brother into four separate pieces so that the local cobbler has to sew him back together, which is badass.
  3. The Sinbad stories are kind of repetitive, and made me want to watch the Ray Harryhausen films.
  4. Like in all good stories, servant girls are always more clever than their masters.
Rating

The Best of McSweeney’s, Edited by Dave Eggers & Jordan Bass

This 600-page tome from the McSweeney’s journal packs a hard punch—not just because of how much they’ve crammed inside, but because the writing is straight-up good.  There’s a comics section, a play starring three cavemen, an account of a NASCAR weekend by a man who knows nothing about racing, a list of facts about Spokane, Washington, two stories based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s notebooks, and a scattering of 20-minute fiction.  Extra points go to the fine design: the dustjacket folds out into a poster and the bonus materials include a box of postcards and colorful booklets.

Rating

Death: The High Cost of Living, by Neil Gaimon, Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham, and Dave McKean (1994)

In this Sandman spin-off, one day per century Death descends to convene with the living in the form of an upbeat goth girl, and this time she’s befriended Sexton Furnival, a suicidal sixteen-year-old in need of perspective.  Their adventures are easily resolved, but the real magic lies in Gaimon’s dialogue and in the Death-Sexton mismatch, which takes place before a decaying urban backdrop alongside a colorful cast of side characters.  As a bonus, the collection comes with a ‘90s-era sex-safe comic outlining the importance of condom use as protection from AIDS, a PSA time-capsule fitting of the Philadelphia era.

Rating

Damned, by Chuck Palahniuk (2011)

Damned is Chuck Palahniuk’s What-If? take on Hell told through the eyes of cynical rich girl Madison Spencer (“Are you there, Satan?  It’s me, Madison”) and her Breakfast Club-inspired gang.  Though there’s very little in terms of plot, Palahniuk instead takes us through encounters with pagan demons, Hell’s geographic oddities (The Great Plains of Discarded Razor Blades, etc.), its candy-fueled economy, its telemarketing industry, and its bizarre damnation rules (honking your car horn more than 500 times lands you in Hell, no exceptions).  Its whims are entertaining, but incredibly scattered, with an unsatisfying ending hindered by mediocre twists.

Rating

As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Sterling, by Anne Sterling (2013)

Anne Sterling’s memoir/biography of her father, Twilight Zone host, creator, and writer Rod Sterling, does twofold duty: on the one hand, Anne shows her father the writer, social activist, and continual innovator, while on the other she shows his decidedly human, funny, fatherly side through anecdotes and the many jokes they shared.  While I found myself most interested in Sterling’s early struggles to earn money for his writing and wrest creative control from the TV censors (and wish there was more to this section), Anne’s difficulties after her father’s untimely death also form a solid, more personal story arc.

Rating

The Flowers of Evil (Vol. 1-11), by Shuzo Oshimi (2012-2014)

Kasuga, a shy middle-schooler obsessed with Baudelaire, impulsively steals his crush’s gym clothes only to be spotted by the class outcast and labeled a pervert, but is he really a pervert, or just looking to form a normal relationship?  Powerful stories never fail to make you care about their characters, and Oshimi pulls this off incredibly—his explorations of courtship, friendship, surviving adolescence, and fitting in capture his characters at their most vulnerable.  The series’ driving question is whether Kasuga will cave in to the adult world like a shitbug or find his own path—whatever that might mean.

Rating

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse (1963)

No one understood social class like the 20th century British writers, and P.G. Wodehouse’s fiction feels more insightful than ever in the post-Occupy age.  Wodehouse wrote some 45 novels and stories about inept young millionaire Bertie Wooster, who’s constantly being bailed out of trouble by his astute butler Jeeves.  This book’s simple (albeit labyrinthine) plot consists mostly of comical misunderstandings, cowardly dives behind sofas, and threats that poor Bertie might actually have to get married, told through Wodehouse’s laugh-out-loud funny prose.  As such, the novel can be forgiven for its hackneyed setups, since the end result is pure fun.

Rating

The Big Book of Porn, by Seth Grahame-Smith (2005)

This coffee table book would have worked a lot better had it focused solely on a detailed guide to classic ‘70s and early ‘80s porn, since that section is filled with history, insights into the industry, and a ton of cool ‘70s movie posters.  The rest of the book, though, is eye-rollingly uneven, alternating between genuinely enlightening info and some seriously lame jokes.  The lowlight of these extras is an overly detailed discussion of fetish porn, while the highlight is a hilarious list of porn title spoofs (Genital Hospital, Hump Up the Volume, etc.) that had me in stitches.

Rating