Tag Archives: 1990s

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.

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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.

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Golgo 13: Supergun, by Takao Saito (1979 & 1997)

Golgo 13 is Japan’s longest-running manga series, chronicling the exploits of super-tough, laconic sniper Duke Togo, alias Golgo 13.  The two jobs in this collection involve an Iraqi ballistic superweapon (a story where both Bill Clinton and Saddam Hussein feature prominently) and a mafia hit and run, plus a background dossier on Togo himself.  If you’re looking for an intro to pulp Japanese action manga, start here—the drawings are dark and the midnight cityscapes majestic, with plenty of guns, planes, action, and sex to capture the feel of an ‘80s action movie in comic form.

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Where I Got It

Christmas 2016, from a friend who knew I loved the Golgo 13 NES games. While every convenience store in Japan sells the Japanese manga books, I never got to the chance to check them out when I lived there since English translations are harder to find, .

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Wikipedia

Playthrough video of Golgo 13 – Top Secret Episode on the NES

Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissinger (1990)

I have zero interest in football, but I enjoyed Bissinger’s book because it’s mostly about the all-encompassing influence that football holds over midwestern culture.  Bissinger spent a year in the west Texas town of Odessa following its high school football team to the state championship, and shows how completely football trumps academics and leads the town to build a $5.6 million stadium for its high school.  He also discusses how racial tensions and Reagan-era politics affected the region—history seen from ground level.

There’s a lot of football play-by-plays too, but I kind of skimmed over those.

Rating:

4-kafkas

Where I Got It

Bought online a few weeks ago, part of the research process for my new novel.

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Bissinger reflects on Friday Night Lights 25 years later (Sports Illustrated)

Interview with Bissinger on the book’s 25th anniversary (NPR)

Conversations with Kingsley Amis, by Thomas DePietro (2009)

DePietro’s collection covers forty years of interviews with British novelist and man of letters Kingsley Amis, who has a lot to say on the writing process, British politics, and the working-class hero in post-WWII fiction as he moves from card-carrying Communist party member to hardcore Thatcher supporter over the course of forty years.  The collection also serves as a useful, expedited autobiography of Amis’s life (with his philandering only alluded to), but can be repetitive since Amis retells the same anecdotes over and over—how many times can we hear him deny being one of the Angry Young Men?

Rating:

3-kafkas

Where I Got It

Bought online a few weeks ago as part of research for the new novel.

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1975 Interview with Amis for the Paris Review

Or, check out Amis’s first and most famous novel Lucky Jim instead

 

The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory, by Stacy Wakefield (2014)

An indie novel about twentysomething punk squatters in New York City in the ‘90s—where do I sign?  I was really excited to read this book but was disappointed by the plot (which does a fair amount of wandering), the characters (which, apart from the coolheaded but hasn’t-found-her-place-yet narrator, never quite stand out), and some lackluster scenes.  What Wakefield does really well instead, though, is show the hazards of Brooklyn squatting life (which is a lot more organized than I’d imagined) by capturing the mechanics of garbage disposal and squatters’ rights in ways that feel intricate and real.

Rating:

2-kafkas

Where I Got It

Bought new at Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago while on a trip, Summer 2015.

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The Sunshine Crust Baking factory at Akashic Books

Interview with Former-NYC squatter Stacy Wakefield