The weblog of Joshua Drescher

Animadversions. header image 2

Reviewapalooza - The Bookening.

February 21st, 2006 · 1 Comment · Art, Misc.

Comments on some books I’ve gone through recently.

Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir by Graham Roumieu

A small nugget of perfect comedy, hiding on a bookstore shelf near you.

Earthboy Jacobus by Doug TenNapel

Gorgeous art marred by bitterness, arrogance and conceit.

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman

So much funny it’s almost TOO much funny. Consume it slowly, like all things pretentious and enjoyable.

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

While enjoyable and timely, it suffers from a handful of overly-simplistic tirades that - from a lesser author - would scarcely be noticed. Also a bit light on truly new material, longtime readers of In These Times may want to wait for a paperback. Still, it’s just great to have Vonnegut back on the New Releases shelf.

Full reviews within. And I’ll fix the damn stars later.

Me Write Book: It Bigfoot Memoir by Graham Roumieu

There are times when you must simply trust me. This is one of those times. This book is piss-your-pants funny. I bought a bunch of copies for various folks over the holidays and have received universally rave reviews as a result.

In short:

Gorgeous, quirky illustrations accompany the story of the rise and fall of everyone’s favorite cryptozoological oddity. Seemingly drawn from all of the most scandalous moments of VH1’s “Behind the Music” series, the book is made up of brief one to three page vignettes about Bigfoot’s life. Sometimes, he’s confessing childhood shame. Other times, he’s waxing philosophical about log-tossing. Sometimes he’s taking a monster dump. Sometimes he’s an author:

I a gentle breeze.

Find hard get up in morning? Maybe say self ‘What I doing with self?’ Got no zip? All morbid obese and cover in own filth and want die?

What need is copy of Bigfoot guide ‘Outwardly Violent Book of Inner Peace.’

- Smash away sadness.
- Tear low self esteem a new a-hole.
- Enjoy simple, delicious recipe entire family want eat.
- Smash in happy success.

It’s exceptionally funny from cover to cover. Trust me.

***** out of *****

Earthboy Jacobus by Doug TenNapel

Earthboy Jacobus is the story of a lonely retired cop who rescues a boy from another dimension who crashes in his back yard inside of a whale, raises him like his own son and then teaches him to fight aliens. Then things get weird.

Doug TenNapel is an obscenely talented dude. His Gear series remains one of my all-time favorite comics. It’s funny, incredibly quirky and has an emotional weight belied by its seemingly “cute” characters. As with most of his work, Gear made it clear from it that Doug is a man of faith and it did so in a way that’s entirely benign and quite palatable, even to staunch non-believers.

Earthboy Jacobus marks Doug’s most significant departure thus far from that style of low-grade metaphysical wonder. In its place, quite unfortunately, we find what I can really only describe as seething, fanatical anger. The book - as usual - is visually stunning and a joy to look at, but the story is marbled with cynicism and the sort of dark, bitter grumbling that you usually only hear on AM radio call-in shows. I have no problem with artists inserting their own views into their work, even in cases where those views conflict seriously with my own, but Earthboy Jacobus does so in a way that is simply unpleasant to read. Regardless of what the message might have been, having it delivered as a series of overblown, bitter rants is bound to turn many readers off. I happen to be one of those readers.

To paraphrase Roger Ebert’s epic review of Rob Reiner’s North, I hold it as an item of faith that Doug TenNapel is a gifted writer and artist. Among his credits are the aforementioned Gear, the delightful Tommysaurus Rex and the hilariously disturbed Sockbaby films. I list those titles as an incantation against this one.

** out of *****

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman

This was last year’s America: The Book for the hyper-literate crowd. As AtB offered for American politics, Hodgman (who has become a Daily Show correspondant since the book’s release) offers an expansive, neurotically broad view of US history that is funniest to a well-read audience. There are moments - like stories of Hobo Kings fighting robots and government agents on top of freight trains - that are painfully funny.

When I first got it, I read the book straight through rather quickly - a fact that I think dulled my enjoyment of its component parts initially. There’s so much packed into every page, so many jokes layered upon obscure references presented in a manner intended to lampoon 19th and early 20th century almanacs that it’s easy to just go numb mentally from the sheer volume of it all.

It’s not like reading The Onion, where the headline contains 90% of the joke and the article itself seemingly exists simply to extend the gag illusion of actual journalism. Hodgman’s writing requires more excavation than one might expect in order to truly take in the scope of his humor. Since then, I’ve been rereading it in small chunks and have found it to be even funnier when read in this fashion.

Broad, EXTREMELY literate humor that will appeal mostly to people who listen to a great deal of NPR.

**** 1/2 out of *****

A Man Without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Let me begin by saying that I am an obsessive fan of Kurt Vonnegut Jr. No one person is responsible for bringing more enjoyment to the whole of my life than he is. For the majority of my time as a half-literate individual, his words have washed over me regularly like a warm, reassuring tide of darkly humane joy. As a young man, it was Vonnegut’s work that helped pull me through my growing agnosticism without letting me plunge into the kind of self-destructive, absurdist despair that can easily consume a person whose early life was built around something they later came to realize was an utter falsehood. He exists in my mind as one of the very few eternally hopeful and honest voices in the whole of human understanding.

As such, when I found out that he was coming out of his half-decade of retirement, it’s safe to say that I was mildly excited.

AMWaC isn’t standard Vonnegut fare. It’s a series of unconnected essays and recollections focused generally on the author’s intense disdain for the Bush II era - some of which have been previously published in the pages of In These Times. There’s more rage in it than longtime readers are accustomed to seeing from Vonnegut.

Or maybe there isn’t.

I’ve read through it all twice now and I’m having a hard time deciding whether or not his gentle - but constant - criticism of humanity has always been thinly-veiled misanthropy. Is he - now at the end of his life and sick of seeing finessed criticism fall on deaf ears - simply unwilling to try and make his point with subtlety? Can we blame him if that’s true?

Despite the anger that bubbles just below the surface through most of the book, it’s still Vonnegutian at its core. Always dark and funny, hopeful and desperate. He’s at his best when shining the light of the wisdom of a long life of contemplation on modern issues. When he tries to bring new insight to the table, the breakneck pace of modern infoculture makes him seem quaintly late to the party. For example, claiming that the Iraq War is nothing more than an oil-grab comes across as the kind of grossly simplistic argument that herds of hive-mind Leftists spout in lieu of informed criticism. Still, there’s more sage wisdom than bumper-sticker politics in AMWaC and it is very much a worthwhile effort from Vonnegut.

For my part, I don’t think it’s a fitting capstone to his career and I doubt he does either. You get the feeling that - like an aging ballplayer who throws a no-hitter years after everyone all but counts him out - Vonnegut still has stories to tell us and light to shine into the dark corners of the human experience.

**** out of *****


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Paul // May 19, 2006 at 8:15 pm

    Another week and you have yet to post. Are you too busy posting Q and A’s on Warhammer Alliance? COme on Josh we need to hear your voice, in fact we need to hear it more than the Warhammer people. In fact they don’t need to hear your voice, ever again.

    You have things to tell us. Like how everything is a marketing issue. This was a week you can draw on. Lessons learned, cops, car parks and how simple things can get all complicated.

    COme on, post, you know I love you. Well Aubury loves you, well Colin Hicks loves you. Ok, ok.. the people on Warhammer alliance love you.

    Post Josh you public needs you. Honest.

You must log in to post a comment.