Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why I Lie About What I Read....

I stopped reading serious literature years ago but people assume that because I’m surrounded by good literature I must be reading it. Well let me tell you that once you begin on the trashy stuff you don’t go back. So when an earnest teenager asks me what I think of Gravity’s Rainbow, I make a little humming sound and hope he mistakes my cluelessness for tongue-tied awe. And when a professor compares the work of several well-known poets whom I’ve never even heard of, and being professorial he is quite content to talk about it without soliciting my opinion, I simply nod here and there and laugh knowingly at the right parts. Sometimes I laugh knowingly at the wrong parts and get an odd look. But here’s what I don’t get and it happens every day. A woman is browsing and picks up a book titled something like Heart and Soul about a woman who discovers herself. Probably in Tuscany. She holds up the book and asks, have you read this? I answer that its women’s fiction and no man in his right mind would even pick up the book, what with all the pastel colors and squiggly fonts. She proceeds to inform me that she knows a man who has read it (a damn lie) and that I shouldn’t be such a sexist. Novels are not, she declares, gender specific. Her confidence in this theory is severely shaken however when she glances down and spies what I'm reading, a 1952 science-fiction novel called Alien Brain-Eaters, its cover a red dagger-toothed alien vomiting brains onto a near-naked girl.

Friday, August 20, 2010

How Not to Sell Your Books....

It was 9:30 pm and I was finishing my second vodka and trying to figure out how to smoke a cigar without my wife smelling it on me. The phone rang and I ducked thinking it’s my wife and what the hell, is she reading minds now? But it wasn’t her. Instead an old-lady crinkly voice demanded to know if I bought comic books. I could tell from the way she talked that she smelled funny. Maybe like one of those European cheeses with high bacteria counts that people are leery of. Anyway, she wanted to meet in the parking lot across the street from the store, the comic books were in the trunk of her car she said. The drug dealer aspect of all this should have rang some alarms, but I agreed to it and the next morning when I saw her I knew that this would not end well. She was about 70, had a silver buzz-cut and the eyes of a Viet-Cong sniper. She popped the trunk and I looked down at the box of shabby Archie comics and I said $20. Ha! she snarls, you ain’t low balling me and she slams the trunk on my head. I say ouch (or maybe shit) but she keeps the trunk door pressed against my head. Now I’ve watched Goodfellas at least a dozen times so I knew it was touch and go at this point. I said Lady, you’ve got to let me get my head out and she glared at me while I moved my head out of range. Maybe I should’ve offered $30.

Later the same day, an elderly man with an iron-curtain accent and a disapproving wife came in with what looked like an inflated pizza delivery bag, the kind with the aluminum foil lining on the inside. The wife said “these are good books” and he says “good books”. She says “these books are worth money” and he says “worth money”. I look inside the bag and it looks like the books were flung into it during a regime-change evacuation panic. The aluminum foil is a little weird so I ask them if the books are radioactive. This must be a standard question where they’re from because she looks solemn and shakes her no but he looks a little guilty and says you look at books, we go for ice cream. At the door, she turns around and warns “they’re counted” and he says “counted!” I decided the books were radioactive after all and went for lunch.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Review of THE STRAIN by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Nosferatu meets CSI.

Vampire literature thrives on contrast. Victorian readers once yawned at bizarre doings in Carpathian Mountains but shivered when Bram Stoker’s Dracula appeared in the city of London. Legions of writers have since inflamed this contrast until it has become positively bi-polar, giving us bloodsuckers as southern gentlemen, little girls, rebellious teenagers, space aliens and a even a librarian. And now worms. Well, why not.

The authors were perhaps over-enthused with the possibilities presented by Vampires, endowing them with so many physiological horrors that a biologically confusing monster emerges. But they are entirely clear in one regard: sex. Vampire tales usually slide easily into sex and sexiness but there’s nothing remotely sexy about these creatures; they are simply repulsive. As it should be, too.

I would have enjoyed more surprises and plot twists, but the story rips along just fine and dialogue is expertly executed. There is much unnatural ghastliness here, and a couple scenes that are stunningly revolting.

The Strain is frighteningly well written and a compelling read.