Arts Desk

Five Books I’d Read

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

1. I Am #7: George Lucas, by Grace Norwich, illustrated by Elisabeth Alba
Hype surrounding Twilight and Hunger Games-inspired young-adult lit (a.k.a. "YA") neglects the Scholastic oeuvrethat is, YA not about vampires or children fighting one another to death, but hagiographic life stories about famous people in American history like this illustrated biography of Star Wars czar George Lucas. Other historical figures in the same series include Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, George Washington, Harriet Tubman, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. Lucas is in good company.

2. The Unknown University, by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Laura Healy
If you have a tattoo from an author's book, you have to hype his/her new release, even if he/she's dead.

3. My Lunches with Orson: Conversations between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles, by Peter Biskind
A conversation with Orson Welles seems like it would be pretty punishing. The guy who made Citizen Kane has to be an incredible narcissist, right? Luckily, Peter Biskind is available to process the auteur's long-lost exchanges with actor Henry Jaglom so we don't have to.

4. Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, by John Ralston Saul
I'm going to devote the final third of my life to playing cards and studying philosophy. If you need to find me after 2028, I'll either be in the National Harbor casino or in my study, contemplating nihilism while smoking a pipe or, at least, an e-pipe.

5. The Stench of Honolulu: A Tropical Adventure, by Jack Handey
Comedians and humorists (what's the difference?) have it tough because they are seeking a specific emotional reaction from their audiences. This is much tougher than, say, musicians, who just want people to buy their records and pay to come see them and don't have to worry whether customers laugh or cry, etc. In other words, you might buy the Beastie Boys' License to Ill because it rocks, or because you find it hilarious and fun, or because you find it edgy, or because you find it poignant (those who find this misogynist record poignant are probably in the minority, however). But the Beastie Boys would never have changed their act to elicit a different reaction from the public unlike, say, Louis C.K., who probably would not insist on telling an unfunny joke on principle. In fact, C.K.'s entire aesthetic is judged by his ability to elicit laughter. Judging the Beatles, on the other hand, by their ability to "rock," seems a dubious/difficult/vague prospect. One could even argue that comedians and humorists have no artistic integrity in the Henry David Thoreau-ian/Fyodor Dostoyevskyian sense. Unlike these scribblers, comedians just want you to laugh. They might not do anything to make you laugh—it's unlikely that Bill Cosby would tell a racist joke or shit on stage. But, bottom line, Cosby has to be funny, while Metallica doesn't need to be anything in particular. They do have to bang their heads, however.

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