Arts Desk

Five Books I’d Read

in which the author discussed five books he'd read, if time permitted.

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1. Typhus, by Jean-Paul Sartre, translated by Chris Turner.
Ah, Sartre...that dour existentialist Frenchman who taught so many disaffected American teenagers to stare out of windows during their (very boring) 11th grade chemistry classes and, though they may never have been to Europe and may not know the difference between Pinot Grigio and Chablis, wonder whether they should start drinking wine and, though they smoke only Marlboro Reds (for the Marlboro Miles) or maybe Camel Lights in a pinch, whether they should start smoking Gauloises, and whether the weather is better in Paris than in Northeast Philadelphia... Sartre, Sartre...well, turns out he wrote an unproduced screenplay. I'm laying 100-to-1 odds that, whatever it's about, it's not as funny as Summer School starring Mark Harmon.

2. The Wagon and Other Stories from the City, by Martin Preib.
A Chicago rookie cop's first assignment: riding the meat wagon that takes dead bodies to the morgue. A cop who's also a writer: a man who's got street-smarts, but also feels comfortable with his nicotine-stained fingers on the home row of a beat-up old typewriter that's in need of a ribbon change. The colon: a tough, muscular punctuation mark that drinks hard liquor, likes fast women, and wouldn't hesitate to tell an off-color joke (indeed, a joke about blowjobs, or a joke about Jews, or maybe a joke that employs the "N-word") in front of your mother.

3. The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History, by David Farber.
Absolutely must read this if I'm going to hang out this summer at any happy hours on Capitol Hill in Irish pubs with balding dudes wearing khakis, white socks with black shoes, and short-sleeved polo shirts despite the frigid (nay, Arctic) air-conditioning. And why, despite their casual attire and exposed forearms, are these dudes sweating? Can they, for some unfathomable reason, not feel the icy blast of that wretched A/C? Is their body-mass index totally off the charts, or what? And do they think it's weird that I'm wearing a wool sweater and watch cap in July?

4. The Carrie Diaries, by Candace Bushnell.
I saw the Sex in the City movie in the summer of 2008 at "The Strand, a beat-up 1970s-era movie theater on the boardwalk in Ocean City, N.J., that Bruce Springsteen could have written a song about. The film played at the Strand long after it had left theaters in, say, Washington, D.C., or New York, playing hot summer night after hot summer night to a devoted crowd of female, 50-something Philadelphia/N.J. natives who deserved a break from their sunburned husband and kids—a vacation within a vacation while Daddy took the brats to play mini-Golf or to a gift shop to buy "Who Farted?" T-shirts. The sound in the theater was fucked-up—I think it was supposed to be in Dolby stereo, but half of the speakers didn't work, so it was like Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon, and Kim Cattrall were screaming in your right ear while your left ear, inexplicably, didn't function, but no one cared. I saw a bunch of other movies in 2008, but this was the best.

5. Confidence Game: How a Hedge Fund Manager Called Wall Street's Bluff, Christine S. Richard.
Huge idea: I'm going to design an intricate financial derivate to sell on the OTC. Investors will bet that the emerging (nay, emergent) publishing bubble of books about the financial crisis will continue to expand and line the pockets of authors and booksellers with unprecedented profits; meanwhile, I'll be betting that the bubble will burst once Dog the Bounty Hunter writes a new biography. Check back in six months, and see who's in the red.

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