Wednesday, July 19, 2017

VANCOUVER BOYS BOOK CLUB, IN REVIEW


Vancouver Boys Book Club, In Review

Here it is, folks: The long-awaited book-by-book review of every book we read in the Vancouver, WA Boys Book Club.  (2016-2017.)

*ahem*
 (This is a long one so I'm putting a break here.) 




Rules of Vancouver Boys Book Club
:
-Every book must be under 300 pages.
-If you want to pick a non-fiction book, you have to get the other members to vote for it.
- The person picking the book must genuinely think that the other members of the club will enjoy his pick.


Rating System
: Every book is rated on a scale from 0 to 1. A rating of 0 means you wouldn't recommend it, and a 1 means you would.


Overview of the Club Members, with commentary from the other club members:

Glasses Brandon. (His picks will be in this "dog shit" color.)

Glasses Brandon:
I picked books that I love. Books that I have always wanted to share with good friends. I guess it was my mistake to assume that Jesse and JJ were good friends. Haruki Murakami and Colum McCann are two authors that I truly love, and it hurt to see them ridiculed by two barely-functioning idiots, but I guess that's what I get for sharing my passions. As for the reoccurring accusation that I only like books about mental illness: I have a mental illness myself so it is understandable that i would identify with that. And out of the 4 books about that, Jesse the ringmaster himself (what the hell is that supposed to mean? -ed.) liked 2 of them. I stand by my picks, all of them. It's a good thing I don't desperately crave external validation like Jesse does.


Jesse:
If Glasses Brandon was in a suicidal 14-year-old girls book club, he'd be the Bell(a!) of the Ball, but unfortunately he was in Boys Book Club, with a coupla super-alphas, and his books always got the worst scores. Once, when he got fed up with our bad reviews, he said "I'm starting to think you guys just don't like literature," and JJ and I got so offended we started sputtering. I guess it's not literature if nobody wants to kill themselves! I guess there has to be a scene in which the lead character goes to a party and experiences ennui, like in the tedious fiction section of The dang New Yorker! (Plus, let's never forget, I've read INFINITE JEST.) But of course, here I go painting Glasses Brandon with a broad brush, just like he painted me and JJ. In the end, he actually had the most fire pick of the whole book club. (Monica Drake's CLOWN GIRL.)

JJ: Glasses Brandon enjoys reading A LOT, so he will make fun of you for doing other things like enjoying life. (Or sitting around smoking pot and watching THE WEST WING. -ed.)  His picks are the type of novel I’m always on the fence about reading, but in Boys Book Club you try to read all the novels, and more often than not I’m glad I did.
Jesse

Jesse:
As you'll be able to tell by me getting the most points (although that doesn't even do me justice, because look at all the PERFECT 3/3 scores I racked up, too) (also, I was the only member who read every book AND had perfect attendance), my picks were the best picks. One valid criticism you could make is that I only picked books by white, male authors, but that's only because Bleeding Heart Glasses Brandon kept picking foreigners and women. Take that shit back to The Anarchist State College, freak-o!!! For far right, literature-hating guys like me and JJ, there's only so much spice we can take in our auth broth without whining about it. Other characteristics shared by my excellent picks were that they were funny and written in the first person.

JJ: Jesse’s literary ego would make Harlan Ellison blush. (As punishment for trying to sound smart here, I'm not going to copyedit anything you wrote. -ed) A man who quips with infomercial-like speed, which really showcase the insecurity and fear that encompass his whole life. A man hanging on to the fringes of his character, Jesse is not quite a lost person, but one who never fully arrived. a half-baked space cadet who reads mostly in the bathroom (because of his Colitis). But we loved his energetic spirit, one that kept persisting, even after everyone stopped caring.


Glasses Brandon
: Jesse is deeply uncomfortable with emotions. Most especially sadness, grief, suffering and other negative emotions he typically describes as corny or cornball or other dismissive words that do more to signal his insecurity than hide it. He is obsessed with everyone's scores, reading too much into my easy ones and not enough into his near-immediate zeros. Jesse likes jokes and will prioritize humor over plot almost every time. He also seems to favor protagonists with moral aloofness or sociopathic tendencies. Hill William was his best pick and Nog his second best. It just goes to show that you can find something to like in even the most diametrically opposed taste. Jesse makes a big deal about how he picked all white males because I "kept picking foreigners and women," but Murakami and McCann were the only non americans I picked and McCann has lived in NY for decades. As far as female authors go, I chose Margaret Malone and Monica Drake's books as my last two picks, so he doesn't really have an argument there either. In conclusion, I believe his male privilege picks were self-made. Take responsibility for yourself sir! Still, I loved two of his books and enjoyed many others. 


JJ


JJ
: I’m regarded as the muse of the of book club, a lot like heroin is to musical talent. Being the only real man in this club, I give balance to this would-be impotent group of guys. During book meetings after Brandon & Jesse were done massaging every inch of each other’s literary egos, they would inevitably look to me for questions to pose during the book discussions. I was the spontaneous, womanizing, cigar smoking athlete who put these guys on my back and carried them to the in-zone (HA! -ed.) that is the finale of this book club.


Jesse:
JJ's picks were "wild cards," I'd say, which is not to say he didn't pick all white male authors too. Since JJ only started to read "chapter books" very recently, his brain lacked an archive of books to recommend, so when it came time for him to pick he had to "judge a book by its cover" and hope for the best. (This lead to a fun discussion in book club about the physical aspects of books, and whether or not they should be mentioned in book reviews.)  But like the ditzy office secretary who fills out a surprisingly good March Madness bracket, infuriating the Glasses Brandon-y statistics nerd who works next to her, JJ reminded us of the superficiality of ficiality. And he had the second most fire pick. (Jim Thompson's POP 1280.)


Glasses Brandon
: JJ picked some surprisingly good books. It is a shame that he didn't finish so many of them. JJ is just beginning to grow his literary ego and a few centimeters is really not that bad. JJ always chose the best covers, so the books look beautiful on the shelf. He has many insights into book covers and paper type, and cooked us several delicious dinners. Also, it was nice to have someone asking what happened over and over again, because it made the rest of us have to prove that we actually read the books. Seriously though, he had some great picks and it was fun to read with friends(?) for the last 9 months. JJ is definitely not going to finish Anna Karenina.


NORWEGIAN WOOD by Haruki Murakami


GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 0/1
JESSE: 0/1

Jesse: This book is about a depressed college student who fucks a lot, and as a former opposite of that I found it offensive.
JJ: Norwegian Wood felt like what I imagine wondering through someone else's dream feels like. I felt sorry for the main character but couldn’t tell why. Overall I’m glad I read it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The book has a very depressing tone, which spoke to Glasses Brandon’s state of mind more than anything.
Glasses Brandon: As can be gleaned by Jesse's strong and reductive reaction to the emotional storytelling, the book is a moving and sincere rendition of grief in the face of suicide at a young age. While I may be faulted in this vaulted company of book readers (nice try, but that's not how you use the word "vaulted," dumbass -ed.) for my choice of "bleak, romantic books in which somebody has a mental illness," I counter that suicide is a powerful force in society, and one that is important to write about. It has taken the lives of 3 people I have personally known, 3 more that I have known of in extended circles, and my father's boss, which effected my father in a way that could rightly be called Murakami-esque. This is one of the best and emotionally true books I have ever read. They just can't see what I see. Maybe they need glasses?


TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis
 GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 1/1
JESSE: 1/1


Jesse:
You could make a pretty good case that this is the best book of all time, because the style is "inimitable" and everyone loves it. In that sense, it's kind of a lame pick. 
Glasses Brandon: True Grit is a great book. The young no-nonsense female narrator exhibits grit that is truly admirable in her pursuit of her father's killer. She shows wisdom beyond her years and endures a harshness of life that leaves out the romanticist notions that flood many western novels. The diction and style fit with the story and the brutality can be felt in many scenes, especially as they pushed the horse, Lil Blackie (RIP Lil Blackie!!! -ed.) to the limits of exhaustion. 
JJ: This was a great read. I was surprised at how competent little Mattie Ross was. We watched the Coen Brothers movie after this book club and were relieved to see how true to the source material they kept the film. I also noticed a crazy resemblance between Jesse and Harold “Chicken Man” Parmalee.



THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman



GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 0/1 (Didn't finish)
JESSE: 0/1

JJ: I’ve always wanted to read fantasy, and after not reading my own pick, I still need to scratch that itch. It could be the book with the worst Title.
Jesse: I read AMERICAN GODS when I was 20 and loved it, but the Neil Gaiman books I've read since then have made me cringe so hard that the back of my neck actually gets sucked into my asshole--literally!--and this book was one of those. It's full of precious British "subtlety" that makes 11-year old girls feel smart, but isn't actually anything. Look at this:

 She shrugged. "Once you've been around for  a bit, you get to know stuff."
I kicked a stone. "By ' a bit' do you mean 'a really long time'?"
She nodded."How old are you, really?" I asked.
"Eleven."
I thought for a bit. Then I asked, "How long have you been eleven for?"
She smiled at me.

Blecchh. It's probably "unhealthy" to get this worked up about a book that actually is for 11-year-old girls, but I know you feel it, too. And the problem with Neal Gaiman is that unlike, say, R.L. Stine, adults treat his books like they're serious books, for adults. Look at this excerpt from The New York Times Book Review that they put on the back cover:

"Gaiman's mind is a dark and fathomless ocean, and every time I sink into it, this world fades, replaced by one far more terrible and beautiful in which I will happily drown."

This is the type of nambypancin' that makes cool kids hate books!!! Worst book of book club.

Glasses Brandon: Neil Gaiman is a good writer. He's given too much credit at times by gushing and goofy reviewers who come across as 12 year old girls glancing admiringly at their not-actually-very cool english teacher, but like that english teacher, Gaiman knows his subject. (English? -ed.)

I liked the ambiguity of the world. And the darkness. There is a scene in which the narrators father attempts to drown him. The character justifies his father's terrifying abuse in a way that a young boy probably would. I also identify with the powerlessness that he felt when confronted with the monstrous babysitter, and how no one in his family believed him. (That's because he was a DIRTY LITTLE LIAR, like Brandon. -ed.) And I liked that there were real stakes. That made it less "fruity," you might say.

It was an entertaining book and it definitely has a younger audience in mind. But Harry Potter did, too, and i liked the shit out of that.


SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK by Matthew  Quick

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 1/1
JESSE: 1/1
JJ: This book had a self-deprecating tone which had me laughing throughout, and I had a palpable (gross -ed.) attraction to the Tiffany character.

Jesse: As the official book club notekeeping journal reminds us, SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK led to my most insightful book club question and comment:
"When does positivity become delusional?
When romance is involved."
This book, THE PLEASURE OF MY COMPANY and CLOWN GIRL form a good trilogy of "delusional narrator pining over an absent or disinterested love interest, " stories

Glasses Brandon: "When does positivity become delusional?" Is a great question to apply to this novel, but I think that Pat Peoples was delusional about many things (like the amount of time he spent in the mental hospital, for example). I loved this book because I identify with the character. I have Bipolar Disorder and the book does a good job portraying what that is like. The movie mucks it up. So as always, read the book.



MORE STORIES ABOUT SPACESHIPS AND CANCER by Casper Kelly


GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 1/1
JESSE: 1/1

Jesse: This is a collection of short stories by the guy who made that TOO MANY COOKS video, and co-created the excellent TV show YOUR PRETTY FACE IS GOING TO HELL. More than any other author, I feel like this guy understands me. He perfectly conveyed what it's like to be a creepy, overweight, kind-of-bookish-but-not-exactly-smart white guy in the 21st century. And, unlike most short story collections (like PEOPLE LIKE YOU, for example), this one had interesting story concepts. "Taking a Shit in the Future" is an immortal masterpiece.

JJ: This pick is the kind of gem that you find by joining a boys club book club. Funny, short stories with crazy premises, would have never found/read this otherwise. There were no stories about cancer though. This was a classic Jesse pick. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he's on the Casper Kelly Street Team, the way he constantly plugs this guy's shit!  


Glasses Brandon: First of all, People Like You is very good. Not every story can have a joke every third line. This book was hilarious. It was all over the place, but totally believed in the worlds it was building and then immediately destroying. The story about taking a shit in the future was great, the story about the virtual realities slowly becoming the only reality was also very well done, and the story about being the last man on earth was the best. I also liked the dumb little interludes with the host of the book, because it was unique and ridiculous.  
Jesse: I would've gotten rid of the interludes, actually.




POP. 1280 by Jim Thompson

GLASSES BRANDON: 0/1
JJ: 1/1
JESSE: 1/1
DAVE (JJ's friend, who was brought in for one meeting to improve JJ's scores): 1/1


Jesse: Whoa, nelly!!! This 1964 pulp western will knock your socks onto your spurs, and call you a bitch!!

JJ:
I was happy with this pick. The book was set it a small country town which felt fun to be in. The story moved quickly, with colorful whores, pimps, lawmen, murders and, a crooked sheriff who everyone thinks is incompetent.

Glasses Brandon: This book was not good. I have a hard time with books about evil and nonredeemable characters. It just felt like the story of an ADD sociopath who kept changing his mind and killing who ever stood in his way at the moment. 

Jesse:
This was the book with the best cover.



THIS SIDE OF BRIGHTNESS by Colum Mccann


GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 0/1
JESSE: 0/1

Jesse: This was the book with the worst cover, and the most annoying title. It had some great imagery--especially in the parts with the homeless guy, which should've just been the whole book--but it was too cornball, ultimately. Whenever I hear people wax romantic about New York, it seems cornball to me. Fuck New York!

JJ: This unfortunate book suffered from the trait of having two story lines. The writing which focused on the present was so much more gripping and interesting that when it moved on, I just wanted to get back to the homeless guy living in the abandon underground subway. The novel did however do a good job of connecting the two timelines at the end.

Glasses Brandon: The cover is not material for a book review. Cornball is apparently a synonym for emotional in this universe. While others may have found "the parts with the homeless guy," to be the most interesting. Removing the link between Treefrog and his grandfather would have missed a wealth of the story. Without Nathan's story of working in the tunnels, Treefrog would've had no reason to be down there at all. He also wouldn't have learned all of his high climbing and acrobatic skills, first on the rooftop of Nathan and his apartment building and then later in the highrises of the city. Omitting the early parts would've lost the background that treefrog's story exists in. The tunnel is a safe place, safe from the abhorrent and pervasive racism of early 19th century new york, safe from the harsh life on the streets, safe from (I'm gonna cut you off here. -ed. )


THE BURGLAR IN THE CLOSET by Lawrence Block

GLASSES BRANDON: 0/1
JJ: 0/1
JESSE: 0/1

JJ: This was a pitiful waste of a pick. The authors photo on the back was badass though and I just pictured him as the main character.

Jesse: This was the only book to get all zeroes, and the one that ruined my perfect record, but I maintain that it's not even that bad. It's just not recommend-able. There's danger in playing it safe, I learned.

Glasses Brandon: This was not a good book. It felt like a made for TV movie, that was made for tv back in the 70s. Entertaining? Maybe. Obvious and too easy to figure out? Definitely. There were funny bits, like the two cops and the absurdity of being stuck in the closet while people are having sex.
Jesse: What's so absurd about that?


THE COLOR OF MAGIC by Terry Pratchett

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: -
JESSE: 1/1


Jesse: My funny foreign dad is obsessed with these Discworld books, so I have been very careful to not display the slightest amount of interest in them, ever, but you can't deny a really good joke and this book has a few.

Glasses Brandon: My dad does not read these kinds of books, so I have always had the freedom to like them without embarrassment. I liked it, because it was funny and absurd. There was also a consistency to the silliness that I liked as well. The magic trunk that kept saving them was really cool too. Anyways, I liked it, don't remember all that much about it though.


JJ: This was another swing and a miss regarding finishing a fantasy book.. starting to consider fantasy is not for me. Pretty crazy world though, seems like enough material for like, forty more novels.


THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE by Phillip K. Dick

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 0/1
JESSE: 1/1

Jesse: This book wasn't funny at all, but you have to give it up for the alternate-history-within-an-alternate-history plot device. My favorite character was The Man In The High Castle, and my least favorite character was Hitler.

Glasses Brandon: Hitler was not actually in this book, so i guess Jesse liked everybody. (Hitler IS in the book. -ed.) This was a great book, it was something I have been meaning to read for a long time. Alternate history ideas are always really cool. And it was interesting to see the power play between the Japanese and the Germans. It was also interesting to see censorship at work in a place like that. The trade in historical relics was a really cool side story too.

JJ: This book was a drag  



HILL WILLIAM by Scott McClanahan

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 1/1
JESSE: 1/1

Jesse: On on a bleak winters day in early 2017 when I was feeling unlikeable and pissed off, this little tale of white trash sex, animal cruelty and child-on-child violence calmed me down and made me feel good. I picked it for book club two weeks later, and two weeks after that book club was feeling the vibes, too. I'm going to read all of Scott McClanahan's books now, and probably read all the books that the New York Tyrant publishes. (They also published Eugene Marten's FIREWORK, which is one of the most fire works of fiction I've ever read.) (And also has some weird kid stuff in it.)

JJ: Just say that I liked it.

Glasses Brandon: This was the best book Jesse chose. And it was  freaking great. The portrayal of the miserable life in Coal country and the little vignettes that the author steered us through were powerful and terrifying. The brutal violence of children was stirring. It didn't make me feel good, I just couldn't believe some of the stories. He made you feel the way the characters would in that situation. And the way he explained how the character looked up to the older one and never questioned his brutality until he was older. Then in the later stages, the description of uncontrollable anger was very vivid.

I will also read more of Scott McClanahan's books. This shit was fucking great.



DISPATCHES by Michael Herr

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 1/1
JESSE: 1/1

Jesse: Michael Herr has a messy and beautiful writing style. I read this in the backyard, in mosquito weather, to give it extra realism, but I think that made it too realistic!! I definitely got the impression that I would've died in Vietnam. JJ and Glasses Brandon DEFINITELY would've died.

Glasses Brandon: The scenes in Micheal Herr's deceptively long novel about Vietnam were beautiful, powerful and horrifying. The scenes that really hit home were the ones about the soldiers who didn't want to leave. They would sign up for extra tours and find themselves unable to board the transport when they were shipping out.
Jesse: I should've read this when it was first assigned to me in LOOKING BACKWARD: AMERICA IN THE 20th CENTURY. 


PEOPLE LIKE YOU by Margaret Malone

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 0/1
JESSE: 0/1

Jesse: This book would've been right at home in the New Yorker Fiction section. Too much ennui!

JJ: It seemed like a way for the author to work out her frustrations rather than entertain the reader.

Glasses Brandon: For someone that hates the New Yorker, Jesse sure seems to know a lot about it. People Like You is a collection of short stories by an author I saw at Wordstock. The stories were great. There was a great deal of disillusionment and sadness etc. but I really liked the story about visiting vegas for christmas.
Jesse: That was my favorite story, too. I'm a sucker for a depressing setting Christmas.


THE STENCH OF HONOLULU by Jack Handey

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: 1/1
JESSE: 1/1

Jesse: This is my favorite book of all time. That's all I'm going to say!

JJ: Best Book of Book Club. True Funny Lives Inside this Book.

Glasses Brandon: There were lots of jokes, but a distinct lack of story. The jokes made up for it in the end.


THE PLEASURE OF MY COMPANY by Steve Martin

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: -
JESSE: 1/1

Jesse: This was the third most fire pick of book club, and the second best cover. The narrator is an extremely lovable combination of creepy and upbeat, and I rooted for him in a way that I never root for non-evil people in "romantic comedies."

Glasses Brandon: This was a pleasure to read. The narrator had some extreme emotional and anxiety issues, but was well meaning and was able to overcome many of his foibles. He was initially mistrustful of many people, but came to find out that they weren't so bad. The line "you don't have to say anything. I already like you" would be beautiful music to the ears of any anxious romantic.


CLOWN GIRL by Monica Drake

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: -
JESSE: 1/1

Jesse: I was worried, going into this, that there wasn't going to be enough physical comedy or clown props coming into play, but by the time I was 1/4er of the way through the first chapter I could see there was nothing to be worried about. The  narrator is very serious, but finds herself getting into absurd, goofy situations over and over again as a result of her interesting profession, and that's my favorite type of book. Like Charles Bukowski's POST OFFICE, kind of. Have you read POST OFFICE? This isn't the same writing style as POST OFFICE, but it's the same sort of appeal, to me. I would definitely want to meet the narrator in real life, even though she wouldn't like me at all. This was the most fire pick of book club.

Glasses Brandon:
This book is really really good. Drake captures the world of clowning in a gritty and realistic way. Jesse said, "This book is what Fight Club was trying to be." The grittiness does not feel forced. Instead it feels like Nita is constantly walking the line between clown art and prostitution. She wants to skirt the corporate gigs and remain true to her artistic roots, but is pushed further and further into desperation.

"For all I knew, Jerrod was a murderer. But he was a man who laughed like a boy." 

 (Weird choice for a quote. -ed.)

NOG by Rudolph Wurlitzer

GLASSES BRANDON: 1/1
JJ: -
JESSE: 1/1

Jesse: NOG poses an important question: do you have to sacrifice some of your morality in order to attain inner peace? It's hard to say what NOG's answer is, but I think the answer is yes. And when you think about it, that's the way it should be. Morality and inner peace must each come at a price...and the price of each is each other. Man, I am HIGH right now!

Glasses Brandon:
This book was good. It was confusing and crazy and I did not understand it that much. But I really liked the journey it took me on. It was like he was passing in and out of consciousness as he traveled. And sometimes I felt like there was more than one protagonist. The rubber octopus was really cool and so was the crazy ping pong game. Worth reading. 

JJ:
This was a rough one.. I’ll chaulk this up to seeing the end of book club and not finished strong. (You are unfathomably bad at english. -ed.)


.....And that's all we read, folks!!! See you next time.


FINAL SCORES

GLASSES BRANDON'S BOOKS: 10
JJ'S BOOKS: 11
JESSE'S BOOKS: 14 (with four "perfect score" books!)

2 comments:

  1. I like these a lot even though I have never heard of any of them and probably read my last fiction book in high school.

    Good luck getting Jesse to ever open up emotionally, guys!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. God dammit, I'm not that closed off emotionally!! Why does everyone keep saying I'm closed off emotionally? (This is a perfect example of me being emotionally open!!!)

      Delete