David Sedaris is My Bitch/Hero

So it turns out that I have a book blog and I haven’t posted anything on it in about six months. Yup. I think I passed the embarrassed stage about three months ago, now I just look at this blog fondly as a thing of the past. Get all nostalgic and sh*t about that time when I used to post more than once a week; it’s great. ANYHOW.

I recently (two months ago) went to a David Sedaris event. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as it was a ticketed event in a concert hall (wasn’t cheap) and it was titled ‘An Evening with David Sedaris’. Was he going to do some stand-up, read from his new book, mingle with his fans in a room of swirling cognacs? Turns out that is exactly what the evening was (minus the cognac).

I don’t remember the last time I had such a good time. So much so that I stopped feeling resentful about the money I had spent to go and see him. I laughed so hard throughout the evening, listening to David (we’re totally on first name terms now) recounting stories and reading diary entries in his surprisingly high pitched voice. I, honestly, fell in love with the man.

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The evening was coming to a close and David said he’d be outside signing books for a short while. Which reminded him of a time when a young guy came to one of his events and said his mum was a huge fan of David’s and would he mind writing something outrageous in her copy of one of his books. Naturally, David wrote ‘Your son left teeth marks on my dick’. HAHAHA. The boy was horrified.

No photographs were allowed, but I was feeling rebellious...

No photographs were allowed, but I was feeling rebellious…

My friend (whom I had very kindly introduced to the world of Sedaris) and I decided to get our books signed. The queue wasn’t moving particularly fast as some fans had his entire backlist with them that they wanted specially signed. Double sigh. So our moment finally came and my friend was nervous, which then made me nervous, which normally results in me talking too fast and laughing too hard at people’s jokes. And overcompensating for my quiet friend.

I asked David to write something outrageous in mine, and as I’m black, I wanted him to write something that was inappropriate and racist. He started telling me a story about a dog shelter run by some elderly people. Long story short, there was an important dinner being held and the words ‘black bitch’ were unknowingly thrown around in reference to a dog they wanted to move out of the shelter. This got us to the following inscription in my book:

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I have to say, it was funny how, in a matter of minutes, he picked up on the dynamics of the relationship between me and my friend.

We talked to him some more and then made our exit. I was really impressed with how he took the time to speak to each person in that very long line, not the usual “Thanks for coming” type sh*t, but genuine conversation. If ever you get a chance to go to one of his readings, I highly recommend you do.

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Book Review: The Deep Whatsis by Peter Mattei

By his own admission Eric Nye is an asshole, ‘and not loyal to anyone, not even [him]self.’ He’s what you’d get if American Psycho‘s Patrick Bateman and Mad Men‘s Don Draper gave birth to a man-child. “Chief Idea Officer” at Tate, a New York City ad agency, the bonus on top of Eric’s already six figure salary is dependent on him firing 50% of his staff – a task that he carries out with “HR Lady”, relishes and draws out for his own entertainment.

‘We pretend with each other in big, long sighs that it was difficult work, very hard, we would go out afterwards and have a nice meal and get shitfaced and take limos home and expense it because of how difficult it was.’

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SO; all appears to have been going as well as could be expected in the life of Eric Nye until “Intern” entered his life. After an almost one night stand, Eric finds that despite the fact he can’t remember her name, she’s now interning at his agency. Intern soon begins to stalk him, turning up wherever he may be to the point where Eric starts to question who’s stalking whom. For no logical reason, he can’t seem to get her out of his head, leading to his slow unravelling… Another chance encounter leads to a complaint against him being filed with HR, but there’s something about Eric that makes it very difficult to believe everything he’s telling you.  Is the intern to have a cathartic effect on him?

Eric is a darkly fascinating character. A guy who says things like ‘For no reason I consider hitting on birch-like juice girl but I fear there is too high a chance she will say yes‘, and ‘I sit in a deck chair and face away from the beach; something about the ceaseless idiocy of one wave after another strikes me as profoundly imaginative‘, and who dismisses a beautiful view of the New York skyline as it’s ‘trying too hard.’ That he’s a jackass is no question, but he’s a hilarious jackass. Or at least I thought so. Even when he’s making certain staff members jump hoops, knowing full well he’s about to fire them, you can’t help but laugh because his cruel indifference knows no bounds (especially because at the office, when he’s not firing people, he does absolutely nothing).

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Living in a false world devoid of any real interactions, Eric struggles with his ‘unalterable inability to deal with [his] unreality.’ It doesn’t appear like he’s able to stay still; restless, deeply jaded and dissatisfied with what life has to offer:

‘Waiting, I realise, isn’t the time between things, it’s the thing itself.’

There are deep echoes of American Psycho here, but if you find the endless listing of material possessions to be boring, you’re missing the point entirely. That listing is what makes American Psycho a classic. The essential difference between Nye and Bateman is that Nye is mocking himself when he reels off his material possessions, aware of some of the absurdities, whereas Bateman loved himself (interestingly, Nye experiences self-loathing) and his possessions; full stop. What struck me as being quite amusing is that Eric neither desires or needs any of these ridiculously expensive items he owns, but he buys them because he can, and often bespoke so he can prove a point.

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For all that Eric lacks in character, he makes up for with the precision of his societal observations. He mocks the Brooklyn hipsters in a way that is so scathing, so sharp; I could not have articulated it better myself:

‘Never before have I seen so many people in one place who are exactly the same: the same age, the same race, the same wardrobe, the same facial hair, the same taste in music, socioeconomic background, college experience, shoes, political beliefs, and hair; but I suppose what really unites them is the shared fantasy that they are rebels.’

He goes to an art show called “Show Us Your Tits!” which features ‘lots of photos (taken, it seems, by anyone who can push the button on a camera) of girls flashing their breasts…I can’t decide if I like this show because it’s not really art at all, it’s just stupid, or if maybe I hate this shit because it’s trying so hard not to be art and there’s nothing more arty than that.’ Haha. Every major city has these hubs; in London the equivalent is Shoreditch/ Hackney.

Underneath the layers of dark wit and narcissism is an intelligent commentary on corporate America where we are told that ‘Advertising is how corporations outsource their lies.’

‘You see, what I think is interesting about what I do is that I personally don’t believe in what I do, or should I say that I believe very strongly that technology is actually destroying us as human beings, it’s taking away the fundamental truths about our humanity and making us pay to get them back: it’s called Creating Value.’

Without spoiling too much, the example he uses was quite an eye opener for me, showing how we have learned to buy back what was fundamentally ours to begin with.

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This is a highly entertaining read that is, in parts, hilarious, and although Eric is indeed an asshole of the highest degree (as it says on the spine of the novel, he’s ‘a character you’ll either love or hate. Probably hate.’) I couldn’t help but be taken in by his unashamed self-centredness.  And what, exactly, is the Deep Whatsis? Well, you’ll just have to read to find out.

I received my copy of The Deep Whatsis from the publisher (Other Press) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Weird Things Customers say in Bookshops.

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There are a lot of strange people in this world. Some of them make into bookshops and ask silly questions. Here are a selection of the most ‘omg-are-you-serious?’ questions and comments.

CUSTOMER: Did they make a film edition of the Bible when The Passion of the Christ came out? You know, the text of the Bible, but with Mel Gibson on the front cover?

 

CUSTOMER: Do you have an LGBT fiction section?

BOOKSELLER: We don’t have a specific section, but we do have LGBT literature – Sarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson etc Which author were you looking for?

CUSTOMER: Don’t worry, I’ll have a look through the fiction section – thanks for your help.

OTHER CUSTOMER: Sorry, did I hear you right? Did you just say that all the homosexual books are in with the normal fiction?

BOOKSELLER: All our fiction is one section.

(Other Customer looks suspiciously at the book she’s holding and slides it back on the shelf)

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CUSTOMER (pondering): How much would a signed copy of the Bible be worth?

BOOKSELLER: Signed by whom?

CUSTOMER: Well…I don’t know. Not God, obviously. (Nervous laugh.) That would be silly…wouldn’t it?

 

CUSTOMER: Pride and Prejudice was published a long time ago, right?

BOOKSELLER: Yep.

CUSTOMER: I thought so. Colin Firth’s looking really good for his age, then.

 

WOMAN (holding a copy of a Weight Watchers book in one hand, and The Hunger Games in the other): Which of these diet books would you recommend most?

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CUSTOMER (to her friend): What about this book? (holds up a copy of The Hobbit).

CUSTOMER: No. I don’t want to read that. It’ll spoil the film.

 

CUSTOMER: Do you have audiobooks on sign language?

 

CUSTOMER: I’d like to buy a book for my wife.

BOOKSELLER: Sure, what sort of book?

CUSTOMER: I don’t know. Something…pink? Women like pink stuff, right?

 

CUSTOMER: Urgh. Shakespeare. He’s everywhere, isn’t he? You can’t escape him. I wish he’d do us all a favour and just die already.

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CUSTOMER: I’m looking for the fourth Fifty Shades of Grey book.

BOOKSELLER: There are only three in the series.

CUSTOMER: No, there are four. I saw it in another shop yesterday. It’s really big. It’s called Fifty Shades Trilogy.

BOOKSELLER: …That’s the box set.

 

CUSTOMER: Do you have a copy of Atonement? But not the film cover, please. Keira Knightley’s neck makes me want to punch things.

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Peculiar Love: Anthropology by Dan Rhodes

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101 short ‘stories’ (or paragraphs, really) each 101 words long, each one more bizarre than the last. I’ve had this book for years and find myself dipping into it whenever I feel like laughing. Each story is narrated by an unnamed man who is experiencing one difficulty or another with a girlfriend. The stories are disturbingly hilarious and undeniably dark with a common thread of absurdity running through them. Here’s a little taster; enjoy!

TRICK

My girlfriend told me she had been the victim
of nature’s cruellest trick, that although born
male she had always felt female. She said she
had started dressing in women’s clothes at
the age of seventeen, and three years later
had undergone the necessary surgery. I was
stunned, but told her that I loved her first and
foremost as a person, and that I would give her
all the emotional support she needed. She
looked horrified. She had only been joking.
She left me. She said she was going to find a
real man, not some queer little gayboy like me.

BINDING

I found my girlfriend smashing our two-year-
old’s toes with a rock. I told her to stop. ‘What
are you doing?’ I cried, above the baby’s
agonised wails.
‘You wouldn’t understand,’ she said,
winding a bandage tightly around the crushed
digits. ‘It’s a woman thing. It’ll help her get a
boyfriend.’
‘But darling, don’t you remember what the
doctor told us? It’s a boy baby.’
‘Really?’ She looked surprised. ‘Oh well.
Men look nice with small feet too. I expect
he’ll be gay, anyway. He’s got that look about
him. See?’ I had to agree that she had a point.

CHARGING

My girlfriend started charging me for sex. She
said she had to think of her future, and
anyway her friends did it so why shouldn’t
she? I didn’t mind too much because her basic
rates were very reasonable, although she
always expected tips for extras. Once, as she
was holding the banknotes I’d given her up to
the light to make sure they were real, I asked
her if she ever went with anyone else for
money. She was furious, and asked what kind
of girl I thought she was. I said one with
laughing eyes, and lovely long dark hair.

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Where’d You Go, Bernadette: A Book Review

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Who on earth is Bernadette, and where the hell did she go? Good question; this is how the novel opens:

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This is Bee, a precocious young teenager who is the daughter of Elgin Branch, Microsoft guru; and Bernadette Fox, neurotic architectural genius. After getting top marks on her report card, Bee reminds her parents that they had said she could have anything she wants. This anything turns out to be a trip to Antarctica. And so kick off a chain of events, charted through a mixture of emails, letters, notes, instant messages and reports; that lead to the disappearance of Bernadette.

Bernadette is highly opinionated, highly antisocial (completely disconnected from the real world to the extent that she has a virtual assistant based in India who does everything for her, short of breathing), hates everything about Seattle (‘Sometimes these cars have Idaho plates. And I think, What the hell is a car from Idaho doing here? Then I remember, That’s right, we neighbour Idaho. I’ve moved to a state that neighbours Idaho. And any life that might still be left in me kind of goes poof.’), and doesn’t care that she’s disliked by all the parents from Bee’s school – a pretentious school of ‘Subaru Parents’ (trying very hard to become ‘Mercedes Parents) where the worst grade you can get is a ‘W’ – working towards excellence. Yeah, that kinda nonsense.

Everybody in this book is so incredibly self-involved it is positively hilarious. Their ability to over exaggerate every little small detail and turn it into a 3-page rant creates a novel that is pure, unapologetic satire. An example of this hilarious exaggeration is when Bernadette is telling Manjula, her virtual assistant, about the difficulties of trying to park her car downtown when forced to pick up a dodgy prescription:

‘It was the first time I’d been downtown in a year. I immediately remembered why: the pay-to-park meters. Parking in Seattle is an eight-step process…Step eight, pray to the God you don’t believe in that you have the mental wherewithal to remember what the hell it was you came downtown for in the first place. Already I wished a Chechen rebel would shoot me in the back.’

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Maria Semple has written quite a bit of comedy for TV – this is obvious when you start getting into this book. The dialogue is sharp and witty if a little forced at times in that sitcom kinda way. And though Semple does it well, I have to say that there has already been a book written in this format, that I think pushes the humour button a little more naturally than ‘Bernadette’. This book is ‘E: A Novel’ by Matt Beaumont – a brilliantly funny book if you ever have the time.

So, together with Bee, the reader pieces together fragments of information from all these random bits of correspondence, to see if we can find out where on earth Bernadette has got to. Underneath the razor-sharp wit, this book has a lot of heart and is one of those unusual ones where you genuinely don’t know what’s coming next. The twists and turns seem so random yet they work really well together. The only thing I’ll say is that the final third or so didn’t quite match up to the humour of the first two sections and so was a bit of a let down. And I won’t say anymore than that, because part of the pleasure of reading (most of) this is the unexpected way in which the story unfolds.

Another thing that’s surprising is that this book has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year (formerly known as the Orange Prize). Though entertaining I didn’t think it was of that calibre….but then again, something shouldn’t have to be ‘serious’ in order to be considered prize worthy. Perhaps it’s the pure originality (minus the format) that has made the judges think twice.

Creative Constipation

For me, blogging has become that older relative that you need to go and visit but keep putting off, the longer you leave it the harder it gets, and then it reaches that stage where you’re too embarrassed to even show your face. And that’s where things are getting to with me right now. I can’t believe it’s been a month since I last posted. Life appears to have rudely interrupted my blogging. A day seems to have turned into a few more, into a week, into a month (hopefully not more), without me having noticed. Perhaps I’ll just blame it on the books I’m reading – not feeling strongly enough about them to tell you guys. I’ve given myself until Friday to get back on the Blogging Train. Choo choo.

 

I’ve been meaning to write…

type-1…but I just haven’t got round to it. So instead of writing (although I appreciate this is also writing) I thought I’d share my favourite bookshops with you. There are only two.

Wandsworth Oasis Charity Bookshop

Wandsworth Oasis Charity Bookshop

The first is the Wandsworth Oasis bookshop. It’s a second hand charity one that supports local people with HIV. I know I shouldn’t promote this cuz I work in publishing, but the books are so damn cheap, it’s  a friggin’ dream. Where else can you get five books for £3.50?! Some of the titles are indeed old, but what really stings is when, amongst the endless stacks, you notice that new-ish book you just bought for full price in the regular bookstore. This place is truly amazing. Last time I was there I got a total of seven books (including the latest Lionel Shriver in hardback) for £4.50 (after a lil’ negotiating)! Wandsworth Oasis is 100% responsible for my inability to fully open my bedroom door. And there’s something to be said for picking up and reading a book that you know has been passed through many hands: the pages that have been folded over, the little scribbles in the margins, the doodles on the cover, the yellow-stained pages, the private birthday/anniversary/thank you message penned on the opening page dating back to 1992 or 2005; all that history. I love it.

My second favourite is the Waterstones near Tottenham Court Road station. For no other reason than it’s quirky and cute and has signs like this:

Cult

Cult

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Reading

You could literally spend hours in either of these places. I get excited just thinking about my next visit. I don’t think it’s quite possible to feel this way about Amazon. Clicking on the ‘Kindle Daily Deal’ button does not excite me (you’re bound to uncover trash). And on that note….until next time (which will hopefully be very, very soon). waterstones

 

Book Review: This Is Where I Leave You – Jonathan Tropper

You think you have all the time in the world, and then your father dies. You think you’re happily married, and then your wife fucks your boss. You think your brother is an asshole, and then you discover that it’s been you all along. If nothing else, it’s been educational.’

Life’s not going too great for Judd Foxman. He’s just walked in on his wife having sex with another man in their marital bed. This other man is his boss. To top it off his dad has just died and he, along with his hilariously dysfunctional family, has to go back to his family home and sit shiva for seven days.

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Is this not one of the funniest opening paragraphs to a book?

This is, hands down, a major contender for my favourite book of 2012 (read it last month, don’t know what took me forever to write this review). Jonathan Tropper is a casually brilliant author and this is a book that I simply did not want to end. The humour is of a dark black variety and I just could not get enough. The dialogue and comic timing are just perfect; I don’t think there’s anyone else who can do it like him. I know that’s a pretty big claim to make, but I’d like someone to prove me wrong and introduce me to a writer who’s funnier than he is.

So the Foxmans are a funny bunch, with ‘a patented inability to express emotion during watershed events.’ From the very first ‘ass-numbing day of greeting visitors at crotch level’ we quickly learn that they simply do not get along, and perhaps ‘should all just face reality and stop taking [their] meals together’.

We have the oldest brother, Paul, who Judd gets along fine with ‘as long as we don’t spend any time together’; sister Wendy: incredibly cynical and jaded mother of three with a husband who’s too busy bothering about hedge funds and himself to actively participate in the mourning of his father-in-law, and Paul, the youngest of the bunch, who has cemented his place as the family fuck up (‘you’d have to wake up pretty early in the morning to find a drug he hasn’t done or a model he hasn’t fucked.) They are ’emotionally inarticulate’ with major communication issues (‘In my family, we don’t so much as air our grievances as wallow in them. Anger and resentment are cumulative.’), which is funny because their mother is an (inappropriately dressed – read slutty) incredibly liberal and outspoken celebrity psychologist.

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The chapters are split into the seven days of shiva and are laced with flashback scenes from significant moments in Judd’s life. The depiction of a marriage in decline is painfully accurate where at first, Judd and his wife Jen ‘knew marriage could be difficult in the same way that [they] knew there were starving children in Africa. It was a tragic fact but worlds away from [their] reality’, but before they know it, standard and perfunctory ‘his-and-hers orgasms [are being] distributed like party favours.’

And now I have no wife, no child, no job, no home, or anything else that would point to a life being lived with any success. I may not be old, but I’m too old to have this much nothing.’

When speaking of his boss that’s sleeping with his wife, Judd says ”Wade could not get enough pancreatic cancer to satisfy me.” Whilst you’re sniggering away at the deadpan darkness of this comment, it’s followed by the heart-breaking, ‘It’s a sad moment when you come to understand how truly replaceable you are.’ So despite the wisecracks and often relentless sarcasm, Tropper punches you with these heartfelt moments:

You never know when it will be the last time you’ll see your father, or kiss your wife, or play with your little brother, but there’s always a last time. If you could remember every last time, you’d never stop grieving.’

The honesty of that statement just pierces you for an instant. In the midst of this confused collection of troubled people (‘You need GPS to follow the sex lives of this family’) and all the hilarity, Jonathan Tropper makes some really insightful observations about humanity, about life in general and about the hard hitting nature of truth. Looking at his sister, Wendy, Judd says:

Now she’s a mother and wife who tries to get her screaming baby to sleep through the night, tries to stop her boys from learning curse words, and calls romantic love useless. Sometimes it’s heartbreaking to see your siblings as the people they’ve become. Maybe that’s why we all stay away from each other as a matter of course.’

Despite, and maybe even because of the Foxman’s buried resentments and permanent scars, there is a twisted love that peaks it’s head after eight tequila shots. An honesty that can bring together the drifting parts and start to mend the fragments of this broken family. Though they’ll probably never be the Bradys in terms of sincerity, you can’t help but think that their version, which is ‘awkward and vague’ at best, is actually better, because ‘even under the best of circumstances, there’s just something so damn tragic about growing up.’

I can honestly say that the humour in this book is effortless, it just flies off the page and I’m in no way surprised that it’s being made into a film (Jason Bateman to be Judd, apparently). Despite his success, I think Jonathan Tropper is underrated. People need to be obsessing with his work more. I can’t recommend this highly enough. And when you’re done, try ‘How To Talk To A Widower’, cuz that’s also effing brilliant. And this is where I leave you….(sorry, had to).

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