Arts Desk

Five Books I’d Read

in which the author discusses five book's he'd read, if time permitted.

1. Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book by Patton Oswalt, by Patton Oswalt.
In the late 1980s, I was obsessed with stand-up comedy. This was when MTV aired a full hour of MTV Half-Hour Comedy Hour every weekday night, the Dana Carvey/Mike Myers SNL cast was in full bloom, and Denis Leary hadn't yet quit smoking and joined a weird show about firefighters on a basic cable network. I would memorize Bill Cosby routines, idolized George Carlin and Charles Fleischer ("Charles who?" you ask), and, even though it wasn't the 1960s, subscribed to Mad Magazine. In the Wikipedia entry of my life where I make smart decisions, this information is summarized under a subhed called "Early Life" that is followed by another subhed called "Ascent to Stardom" when I become the first stand-up from greater Northeast Philadelphia to get his own HBO special. Instead, I learned how to play guitar and started playing punk rock, and have no Wikipedia entry to call my own—only tears.

2. Of What One Cannot Speak: Doris Salcedo's Political Art, by Mieke Bal.
Someone (Wittgenstein? Pauline Kael?) once wrote that reading art ("art" = film, painting, music, literature, etc.) criticism without first experiencing ("experiencing" = seeing, hearing, reading) the art under scrutiny was a meaningless activity. Whoever wrote this (Guy DeBord? Gene Siskel?) obviously never lived anywhere near Cottman Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia where young people growing up in the 1980s without access to heralded cultural artifacts (Donald Judd sculptures, Prince's "Black Album," the movie 8 1/2) read about them years before they could actually get their hands on them (I still haven't seen 8 1/2). In other words, reading art criticism can be an end in itself. Alternately, I'll say this: The art this book is about seems pretty boring, but the book itself seems pretty cool.

3. The Black History of the White House, by Clarence Lusane.
Ah, AK Press—rabble-rousing its anarchist brains out since 5000 B.C. Don't wear out those Crass LPs, dudes! The revolution isn't coming anytime soon.

4. Bringing Up Oscar: The Story of the Men and Women Who Founded the Academy, by Debra Ann Pawlak.
Maybe understand the history of "Oscar" (not "The Academy Awards" or "The Oscars," but just "Oscar") will help me win the betting pool at my annual Oscar party. Oh yeah, I forgot—I already win it every f*cking year. Why don't people show up to an Oscar party with some game? I feel like the Chicago Bulls trouncing the Seattle Supersonics in the mid-1990s. Sh*t just ain't no fun anymore.

5. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare: The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee, by Karen Abbott.
Supposedly, Gypsy Rose Lee was such a jammin' stripper that she would take 15 minutes to remove a glove and all the dudes in the audience would still be slobberin' for more. Just like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and their socks. BAM!

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