I have to admit, I have not done any reading for pleasure since I quit writing in 2021. I have completely lost the plot, so to speak. I have been reading, but it’s either books for work, school, or self-help stuff, none of which I would want to review here. (TL;DR read Measure What Matters, High Output Management, and Radical Candor for the first one.) And when I am on a trip, I usually grab the latest copy of The Economist and read it cover to cover, which might not be your cup of tea.)
Ignoring those books, here’s a rough list of what I did manage to read since the fall of 2021. This doesn’t include re-reads, of which there were a dozen or so. (A bunch were mine, and I re-read Small Town Punk every other year or so.)
Predator: A Memoir, a Movie, an Obsession by Ander Monson
I read Monson’s book Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir back in 2020, and it was the kind of book I loved because it was such a great reading experience and hated because I wish I would have thought of the idea first, and now feared I would subconsciously copy when trying to write something out. It could be classified as perfiction ala Raymond Federman, but the voice of it was nothing like Federman and was more contemporary, yet still a bit weird. Predator, which is a memoir this time, is a strange combination of a film studies book and a memoir, in a different style than the previous, but still weaving between the two, and also something I wish I would have thought of first.
The bullet is that Monson was obsessed with the movie Predator as a kid, and watched it constantly, until it bled into the fabric of his early life. I did the same thing with a few movies, most notably RoboCop, so I get it. But Monson also had a traumatic childhood, losing his mother at an early age, bopping around as a borderline truant in the upper peninsula of Michigan with friends who would later join militias, then getting in trouble for computer hacking. I think that Midwestern not-the-cool-kid thing resonates with me, which is what drew me in to this obsession.
He claimed to have watched the movie 146 times, and practically dissects it frame-by-frame. While he covers the surface themes quickly, like the general zeitgeist of 80s action movies with tough guys (who might or might not be gay) he stumbles upon several interesting angles. One is that the quickie novelization of the book was written by Paul Monette, who is better known for winning the National Book Award for his nonfiction memoir about growing up in the closet. Monette died of AIDS in 1995, and published Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir the year after the Predator novelization. The book details his own experience and the loss of his long-time partner, who passed from the disease in 1986. Most people would posit that these muscle action movies were secretly homoerotic, which juxtaposes oddly with the fact that the book was written by a gay man. That’s one of about 17 different tangents that Monson goes off on as he goes through the film, and all of them are equally as interesting.
The book is simply amazing in how it weaves these contrasting narratives together, each which is interesting, but all together made it even more engrossing. This is by far the best book I’ve read in a while.
The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman
Chuck Klosterman is another author who writes these things with incredible resonation with me, and make me upset I didn’t write the same damn thing first. I think I’ve had a 90s book sitting on my hard drive for years and can’t pull it together, but Klosterman did, so. There are a lot of rants in here that I’ve similarly covered here in the blog or on my old podcast, and I think one of the common threads is that GenX is largely forgotten because the generations before and after us won’t shut up, and we didn’t live up to our catchphrase slogan as “slackers” because we actually got jobs and did stuff.
There were a few things he undersold or theories I found to be off. Like he largely dismisses Y2K as a big nothingburger, but as a person in tech who probably sat through a cumulative year of meetings about it starting in like 1993, it was a big thing to some of us. (Aside: I think I tried explaining Y2K to one of my teachers in the late 70s and they wanted to put me in therapy.) I think one of the most frustrating things about Klosterman’s books is I always wish they were a conversation and I could add more to it. I could blog about them here, but then it would look like I’m ripping him off.
Good book, though. It does peter out towards the end, but so did the Nineties.
LaserWriter II: A Novel by Tamara Shopsin
Multiple people told me I had to read this. I did, but it didn’t click for me. As a person who lived in New York in the late 90s and spent a big chunk of time unjamming LaserWriters for a living, it seems like it should. I barely remember this book, so let’s move on.
Lago by Ron Jude
This is an incredible photo book where Jude goes back to his childhood home of the Salton Sea area in the desert of Southern California to try to do the detective work to find out who he is. The photos are absolutely mesmerizing, a contrast of tack-sharp focus and minimalist detail, wandering a palette of browns from the sand and desert vegetation. The landscape is familiar to me, but the composition and grouping resonates in amazing way. It’s like his lens for looking at the scrub brush of Salton City is captured in such a way that I can imagine looking at my own childhood landscape in the same way. This wasn’t a cheap book, but I come back to it constantly, and it was worth it.
Stephen Shore: Uncommon Places: The Complete Works by Stephen Shore
Stephen Shore was a New Yorker who had never seen the country, and decided to drive across it with a large-format camera in tow, and find beauty in the obscure and forgotten areas between the two shores. He absolutely preserved the history of this time not by taking pictures of events or famous architecture or the usual landscapes, but by wandering roadside motels and tiny towns and gas stations. In some ways, the subject matter at first glance might be the kind of thing you’d quickly shoot with your phone and forget: a plate of pancakes, a parking lot, the back side of a brick warehouse. But when you look closely, the composition is absolutely perfect, the way your eye wanders through the pieces of the puzzle. The more you examine each picture, the more details you see, the more things captured. The faded tones and the sepias play wonderfully against the old cars and wood-panel hotels. Like Jude’s book, it’s less about the content in the picture and more about the filter in Shore’s brain that put the content there and what it tells us. It’s an absolutely wonderful book, and probably my favorite photo book I come back to constantly.
Novelist as a Vocation by Haruki Murakami
I have to admit that after getting through 1Q84, I was pretty much done with Murakami. But this book is more memoir, and a very inspirational one. He details his road to writing, how he writes, his rituals and how he comes to ideas. This is a series of essays and not so much a how-to book, but there are many good ideas to be gleaned from it. I think he is pretty polarizing about certain things, and it’s definitely not “I can write and after reading my book, so can you!” But it was an interesting read.
I think one of the things he mentioned that rang true to me is that being a career writer is less about writing one or two books, but about having the endurance to keep writing books year after year. And maybe that hit me because I read this after quitting writing, and maybe I need to take his advice.
Strange Circumstances: 34 Stories by Keith Buckley
The weird thing about reading Keith’s stuff is that this is his second book, but I’ve been reading him for thirty-some years in discussion boards and internet posts, so any of his writing immediately has a decades-old familiar voice to me. Full disclosure: I helped him publish his first book, The Orphic Egg Caper, which was a surreal pulp crime novel, of which the biggest crime is that nobody read it and they really should. Strange Circumstances is a collection of shorter stories and flash fiction, ranging from pulp to absurd sci-fi to satire. This is a great introduction to the weirdness to be found in his work. The kicker is I know he’s sitting on thousands of pages of this stuff that needs to get out, and I wish he could get to a bigger audience to put some sense of urgency on him that he needs to keep editing and stop spending all day generating AI images of Cthulhu getting a high colonic and messaging them to me.