3.30.2011

Cookie's Guessing Game About Food by Sesame Street



I'm aware that most kids and grownups find the Cookie Monster amusing.  I guess I don't. 

Consider the book Cookie's Guessing Game About Food.  Just look at the cover for a moment (as you can certainly judge this book by it) and try telling me with a straight face that the Cookie Monster doesn't set a wretched nutritional health and food etiquette example for our children, and does so under the disgustingly disingenuous guise of "educational entertainment".

Children have enough trouble as it is learning appropriate table manners without being poorly influenced seeing the Cookie Monster stuff eight cookies into his mouth simultaneously in one dangerous chomp that could potentially cause his choking to death.  Worse, compare the cover to the example set on page seven of this, frankly, terrible, Sesame Street board book where the Cookie Monster is pictured chowing down twenty (I counted) cookies into his gullet as if he's engaged in some solitary  "who can eat the most cookies" contest, but competing only against himself.  Is it any wonder, then, that the Cookie Monster suffers from morbid obesity with this binge eating habit of his?  And yet Sesame Street, shamefully, exploits the sugar addiction of this poor creature because children (and some adults apparently) think it's funny the way they think Charlie Sheen's addictions are funny.  Not a very WINNING attitude to have regarding addiction, is it?

I don't appreciate the subliminal subtext of Cookie's Guessing Game About Food, either.  If you have the book, take another glimpse at page seven.  If you take both hands and cover up the arms and legs of the Cookie Monster, you'll see that his torso is in the subtle (but unmistakable) shape of an upside-down light bulb.  One of those energy wasting, climate changing incandescent light bulbs, to be exact, rather than a fluorescent bulb.  Way to go, Sesame Street!  Subliminally implanting in the impressionable minds of our innocent youths the promotion and promulgation of immoral light bulbs that are DESTROYING OUR PLANET!  Is this the kind of environmental ethos we want our children unconsciously exposed to every time they merely look at the Cookie Monster?  Isn't seeing an eating disorder and sugar addiction in action every time they look at him egregious enough already?  And think of all the adults you know who think that global warming is a crock.  I'd hypothesize they watched Sesame Street as children and adored the Cookie Monster most of all its characters, even more so than the character liked most by kids who turned out normal, Big Bird.

I suspect, flipping through the pages of Cookie's Guessing Game About Food, and witnessing the uber-abnormally "bugged out" eyes of the Cookie Monster, that there's another white substance besides benign sugar in those abundant batches of chocolate chip cookies that the creators of Sesame Street long ago got the Cookie Monster hooked on.

I obviously cannot recommend this book.  It's too sad, and maybe it's just me, I don't know, but seeing the Cookie Monster so abused and exploited by creative puppeteers and so-called "child entertainers" who should simply know better, makes me MAD!!

3.25.2011

Tours of the Black Clock by Steve Erickson



I'm not at all happy with the following piece; it doesn't do Steve Erickson, or his signature novel, Tours of the Black Clock, justice, not even close, but I'm going to leave it up anyway, because I'm confident I'm going to "get it," Erickson's novel (his third--his third that was published, that is), Tours of the Black Clock, one of these days.

First Printing, 1989
I'm confident that something will click in my remembrance of the read, in its rich hallucinogenic imagery, and while I'm doing something else, the laundry, the dishes, that a connection, a dingdingding will be made, much in the same way, perhaps, as when after years of unconscious meditation on The Matrix -- perhaps also the closest approximation in content I could make in comparison to Tours of the Black Clock -- a light brightened abruptly in my interpretive awareness, and I'll catch a glimpse, likewise, of what Erickson, the finest abstract novelist alive, was after in this visually stunning and incredibly visceral book of his, Tours of the Black Clock.  A book so alive the pages practically pulsate, it's narrative so redolent in DNA it's prose might as well breathe.  Feel that, turning its pages?  Until I see that mind awakening dawn clearly, however, I'll let the piece below remain, a testament to the process one must undergo sometimes, toward reaching (or reading) comprehension.

~~~~

Reading Steve Erickson's novels are like reading the scripts of hallucinations, nightmares, acid trips.  Not that I know much about the latter, but I can imagine.

Tours of the Black Clock is surreality blended with reality, seamlessly.  And yet it's difficult distinguishing which is which, as you're reading.  Because it's so dreamlike, Black Clock leaves itself open to varied interpretations, thus making it, for me, nearly impossible to follow.  Tours of the Black Clock started losing me -- my understanding of its plot -- around page 175. I enjoyed reading it, but I just couldn't quite fathom what the hell was happening as it happened, or understand what the disjointed happenings that were happening, meant, in relation to one another.  The plot pivoted around our hero meeting Hitler, as the SS took him under its wings, but then he never met him.  Were they dreams?  Did he really get flown into Europe, or was that his overactive imagination?  And why the obsession with Geli, Hitler's mistress?  Hadn't she died or disappeared before she was even born?  What's with the River Styx allusion at the book's beginning?  Was our hero dead already too?

Erickson's Tours of the Black Clock is a mysterious tour de force for sure, about ... something.  I'm just not sure what!  Is it some dark WWII underworld or alternate universe we've entered to explore?  A worm hole?  A time warp through history?  All of the above?  And more?

Normally, here, I'd say something like, "Guess I better go read it again," but I'm positive I'd be just as mystified.  Not that I'm complaining.  I live for this kind of shit.  And it's some good shit.  Shit that's weird and twisted, trippy shit.

Erickson's holographic visions, despite my interpretive confusion, are still worth exploring; they're fun the way that being lost in a labyrinth is fun.  I don't really care if a maze has any meaning do I?  The fun is the adventure in figuring out a way through the maze, not necessarily in knowing what the designer of the maze meant when he or she designed it.Erickson's language is exquisite, so he's easily forgiven for being so hard to follow.  His characters, while believable, real flesh and blood creations, seemed also like composites, but signifying what? (or whom?).  I don't know if Erickson's later novel, The Sea Came in at Midnight, while as surreal as Black Clock, I found more accessible.  More comprehensible.  Therefore, more satisfying, even though Tours of the Black Clock is widely considered Erickson's best.

Understanding Steve Erickson, I think, in a nutshell, is like the reading equivalent of attempting to put a jigsaw puzzle of at least one thousand pieces together blindfolded, and doing so in the time it would take you to read a difficult, complexly convoluted 300 page novel.  Make sense?

3.15.2011

Mailer: His Life and Times by Peter Manso



Whether you admire him or abhor him, it's awfully hard not to be awed by him -- Norman Mailer.  He may have been a megalomaniacal legend in his own mind, but his both brilliant and obnoxious life, if not all his novels and new journalism, will probably remain legendary for all time.

Peter Manso encyclopedically captures that life, from his childhood in Brooklyn; through Harvard; the army; the crafting and enormous sensation of The Naked and the Dead; Hollywood; politics; Marilyn Monroe; Vietnam and anti-war protests; failed marriages and spousal abuse; boxing; failed collaborations and embarrassing interviews; the out-of-nowhere success of The Executioner's Song (only to find out later that Mailer may have taken too much authorial -- and definitely, research -- credit for it!); to the desultory, poor-selling novels of the '90s (Harlot's Ghost, which I actually liked, and that Oswald disaster that was a second-rate Libra); and finally, to the bitter, cash-strapped, "Crap in the Forest"* end.

Thank goodness for Peter Manso that Mailer: His Life and Times was an oral biography, impeccably sourced and cited by family, friends, and heavyweight literary and cinematic luminaries, when Mailer, after its publication, decided, even though he'd approved the final drafts, nevertheless to launch a smear campaign against Peter Manso and the accuracy of his Mailer-biography's claims.

Never mind that Manso and Mailer had been friends for decades; that Manso and his wife even lived with Mailer and his family for parts of two years during the biography's composition, and even took on a mortgage together for the construction of a new house that would be theirs, together; that rabies-ridden-rottweiler-of-a-man, amidst graceful greyhounds -- the chronically disloyal and myopic Mailer -- still badmouthed and lied and, lied so well about his good 'ol pal Manso, that crucial sources for Manso's next biography (that he was then entrenched in) on Marlon Brando, opted out and refused to be interviewed for it.  Mailer had effectively blacklisted Manso through word-of-mouth and the press in an attempt to derail both the Brando biography and, more detestably, his career.

Manso reveals the complete drama -- and how he regained his good reputation as a truthful biographer -- in the latest edition of Mailer: His Life and Times' afterword, "Alas, Poor Norman (1985 - 2007)".

Even if you're not a Norman Mailer fan; even if you, for understandable and righteous reasons, hate the guy, I don't see how you can't love this book.  It's fascinating to hear what people like E.L. Doctorow, James Baldwin, Allen Ginsberg and others, thought of him.


*The real name for the novel is The Castle in the Forest.

3.12.2011

Angels by Denis Johnson




It's rather heart wrenching in this T.S. Eliot wasteland of a world that the proverbial grass isn't always greener for a young, overwhelmed mother of two ditching her abusive husband by hopping on board a Greyhound out of Oakland bound for what she couldn't have possibly envisioned when she bought her ticket would become a trip toward worse victimization, along with the loss of the children she was seeking to protect. Her name is Jamie and she's an emotional wreck.  Of Miranda Sue, her youngest child, constantly crying, she wishes (brace yourself) that "she could smother" her.  Call Denis Johnson a jerk, if you must, for sinking his teeth into some dark feelings and human frailties that most of us are content keeping down however we have to, repressed.  Which is not to say that most of us are emotionally repressed, but that most of us have some cozy mental filters in check that prevent us from admitting to the world that, in an acute crisis, we'd like to kill our kids just to make them shut up for once so we could finally have some much needed peace and bleeping quiet.  But those filters are absent in Jamie.

One of my favorite Vintage Contemporaries' book covers
Couldn't those nincompoop nuns sitting across from Jamie, making their catty remarks about her unkempt, "white trashy" appearance and questionable (though honest!) maternal instincts, have instead shown some appropriate Christian compassion and asked her if they could be of some assistance to her in her obvious time of need?  No.  Because this is Jamie of Denis Johnson's Angels the smarmy Sisters are staring at, not Whoopi Goldberg of Sister Act.  So forget about ideal behavior by anybody and forget about a happy Hollywood ending too.

Of course, once the nuns disembark the bus, and Jamie accepts alcohol out of a flask from an overly-friendly man, Bill Houston (what a classy introduction) and then impulsively decides it would be a good idea to entrust both herself and her kids into this stranger's care with no strings attached (ha!), could she have honestly expected anything better than a bad outcome?  But desperation, being on the run, lack of available funds and the exploited fear of homelessness have a regretfully nasty way of making prey out of the best-intentioned people and their defenseless offspring.

Need I speak of the predictable ensuing drug addiction Jamie will endure (in full view of her kids) after she's drugged almost unconscious by her future death-row "savior" for the production of back alley pornographic entertainment?  Oh her savior is an angel all right!  Nice dark irony there, Mr. Johnson, titling your debut novel "Angels".  Good one.  For there's not an angel in sight in Angels, except for maybe the darkest angel's, Bill Houston's, public defense attorney who does everything in his limited (naw, let's call it "impotent") legal "power" to keep his client from the gas chamber.

What's so miraculous for me about Angels, is how Denis Johnson believably transforms, out of the unforgivable actions of Bill Houston -- a murderer of a retired cop; a botched bank robber; a car repossession impersonator; a jack-of-all-crimes -- in essence a human demon redeemed into a humane human being, as he dries out and contemplates what put him in prison, and experiences real remorse for the unspeakably evil roads he belatedly realizes he shouldn't have taken.  He examines his squandered life, and feels pain for his victims.  Is it an act?  Is it real?  His interactions with his fellow death-row inmates and the guards would seem to indicate it's genuine, as he waits to die for a shockingly short time on death row while the revved up political machinery aims to make a swift example of the cold-blooded cop killer for all future would-be killers to witness and, presumably, to take heart, lest they too some fateful day pull that hypothetical trigger next time they're tweaking out in the oppressive heat of an Arizona desert.

"Just don't kill a cop," the sheriff's and politician's manipulation of the criminal justice system in its ridiculously speedy gas chamber cowboy justice ("yee-haw!") seemingly proclaims, "or else we'll kill you faster than a dratted rattlesnake's venom will, Pardner!"

Denis Johnson wields a style so simple and straightforward it can be confused with being simplistic.  But that would be inaccurate testimony regarding this exceptional, earthy writer. I was deeply touched by Angels.

3.05.2011

Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less by Alexander Aciman & Emmett Rensin




 I've never tweeted once.

After reading Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less -- at first a nominally amusing read that turned tiresome and awfully unfunny fast once the cutesy tweeting novelty wore off -- it's clear I've missed nothing by not embracing this brave new (and hyper-abridged) culture of the twit, tweeter, whatever.

Twitterature is the classics in 140 characters or less.  Har. Like an evening spent with a bad, linguistically challenged stand up comic.  Irritating.

Twitterature's individual entries are so short they're like Spark Notes to the real Spark Notes of the classics.  Frankly, I'd rather read the real classics.  Unabridged.

It's unfortunate that the made up word, "twitterature," just so happened to rhyme with the real word, "literature," thus making the gimmicky publication of this co-collegiate-authored book of mostly bad gags, possible.

But, on the flip-side, isn't it fortunate that "twitterature" also rhymes with "shitterature". Because "shitterature" encapsulates Twitterature to a tee.

~~~~~

Update 08.30.2015

Twitter didn't appeal to me in the least when I read this book six years ago. During the past year, however, I've discovered Twitter can be a useful interface in finding useless but amusing information distilled to its most rudimentary facts, and also for making interesting connections and "meeting" new acquaintances that sometimes become online friends over time. So, Twitter, turns out, five years after I wrote this rant, is semi-okay by me.  But I still believe the book Twitterature sucks. And the edition I read was an earlier edition with a different subtitle -- The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less -- and not the Retold Through Twitter text in the image of the book cover above.