Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday Batman!

Yeah, this post will have absolutely nothing to do with Batman.

Instead, just another really great book based on the Bible by a funny Jewish guy. Though, from the start, I have to admit that this is really more a book where the existence of an omnipresent God is the jumping off point than the actual Good Book.

Beware of God is a collection of fourteen stories including my personal favorite about a man who God keeps trying to get to build an ark who refuses to listen.

"Prophet's Dilemma" opens with one of the greatest scenes ever:

"And behold, God spoke to Schwartzman late Tuesday evening, right in the middel of Leno's monologue, saying, 'Make yourself an ark, for you and for your entire family, for I have found you righteous in your generation.'

"'Now?' asked Schwartzman."

Though, as funny as that is, I'm going to guess that the book probably sold based on the genius of "Smite the Heathens, Charlie Brown."

Yeah, it is that Charlie Brown. The Peanuts gang is torn asunder as they align themselves into two opposing communities of faith: Schulzians or Pumpkinites. Schulzians believe in a divine Creator who draws them everyday. Pumpkinites believe in The Great Pumpkin.

Sally just wants to know which believers get more holidays.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Friday (Not So) Happy Hour(s)

Welcome to Good two of what began as "here are some really offbeat takes on writing about the Bible by funny authors" and now looks to be shaping up to be "here are some really offbeat takes on writing about the Bible by funny Jewish authors (1)."

Today's book caught my eye because of its genesis story (2).

According to the article that I read (3) Slate editor David Plotz was at a cousin's bat mitzvah and started flipping through the book of Genesis (5).

As is often the case in these kinds of "did you know that this story was in the Bible (6)" stunt memoirs, Plotz stumbled across one of the Good Book's more colorful passages. The rape of Dinah by Shechem. If you're not familiar (7) the story involves a rape, a shotgun engagement, a circumcision pact and the mass murder and enslavement of innocents.

I know. But it's Genesis. Old Testament. A lot of stuff went down in the Old Testament.

Which is why Plotz focused on the Old Testament even though he titled his book Good Book: The Bizarre, Hilarious, Disturbing, Marvelous, and Inspiring Things I Learned When I Read Every Single Word of the Bible (7).

I'm approaching this book with some caution because it feels, as I've eluded to in this post already, like a project I've already seen...a couple times.

But, what can I say, I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff.

1. How's that for niche?
2. Clever, right?
3. But you know the damn liberal media and their loose morals when it comes to "facts" and "truth (4)."
4. Edgy, right? I don't actually believe that to be true. No. Really. That's why I stuck it down here in the footnotes.
5. When you're Catholic your asked not to do stuff like that. It's like wandering onto a farm and deciding to try out the thresher...there are professionals to take care of that stuff.
6. And who really is?
7. To be fair, a lot of people claim to have read the entire Bible and even live their lives by a literal interpretation of it. These people are lying. And everybody knows that God hates liars...and people who wear clothing of mixed fibers.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

You Say It's Your Birthday...And You're Right

In addition to being Maundy Thursday today is also Leopold's birthday.

In celebration I thought I would share the reason for why Leopold is Leopold when mentioned on this blog.

Leopold is a classical musician and this is how I like to picture his every entrance.

To the best of my knowledge, this has never actually happened.

Though he could be holding out on me.

Happy birthday Leopold.

Maundy Thursday or Guess Whose Coming to Dinner

OK, I'm going to try one of those clever series posts that keep you coming back for more. And, really, what better way to start than with a collection of posts that are kinda', sorta' in the spirit of...well...the spirit.

Today is Maundy Thursday (1) the day when the Last Supper (2) took place.

This year it is also the day when Jonathan Goldstein will be reading from his new story collection, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bible, at Politics and Prose (3) in Washington, DC.

From what I've read, this was probably a strategic choice on Goldstein's part. From here until Sunday the folks most likely to be offended by his Bible stories reboot will be otherwise occupied with final choir rehearsals, daily services, arranging memorial lilies on the altar and threatening hostesses to try and get last minute brunch reservations.

By "reboot" I am referring to stories about Jonah's (4) brother Vito, "A Work in Progress, by Joseph of N__" and a post-eviction Adam and Eve screaming to God, "We get it... You made your point already. Now let us back in."

Oh yeah. Consider another copy sold.

1. Maundy, Maundy...can't trust that day, Maundy, Maundy...sometimes it just turns out that way.
2. Kinda', sorta'.
3. A really, really fantastic indie bookstore that I do not get to at all...much to my great shame...but many fantastic authors do.
4. As in, "and the whale."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

In the eye of the bookholder...

Some of the book bloggers (1) have been talking about Martha Woodruff's NPR piece about author's photographs and whether or not they are important in marketing a book.

I particularly liked what Jessa Crispin, the genius-in-charge at Bookslut, who commented that she's always surprised when she meets authors who look absolutely nothing like their jacket photos.

I love that.

I actually have a short list of authors who I have seen in person who look absolutely, positively nothing like their jacket photograph. They look better.

Hair is shiny. Noses are reduced. Foreheads are smooth and cheeks are free of age and acne. Eyes manage to walk that careful line between big and bright and drug-addled.

And that is why, should I ever get a book contract, I will be contacting each and every one of them and asking who did their photo.

The way I see it, if the book you've sweated and prayed and cried over ultimately ends up on that front-of-store orphan pile sporting a $4.99 sticker on the front, you're already going to be feeling bad.

Why make matters worse with a driver's license mugshot on the back flap?

1. You know. The cool kids.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stranger than Fiction

Two stories caught my eye today.

In one, a man apparently stood up as an actress was delivering a scathing monologue against her fictional onstage boyfriend in Neil Labute's play Reasons to be Pretty, and called said actress "bitch" twice...along with a few things that the New York Times arts blog categorized as unable to be printed. As near as anyone can determine it seems that his reaction was not against the actress herself, but her character.

In another turn, the Wall Street Journal has an interesting piece by Alexander McCall Smith about the sometimes strong relationships readers form with fictional characters. Relationships that sometimes leave the authors standing on the sidelines like some kind of jilted lover. The best friend who was fine until junior high when they just weren't cool enough to keep around.

These two separate but kind of related stories first reminded me of the stories I heard about kids sending letters to J.K. Rowling asking about entrance qualifications for Hogwarts.

And then it reminded of the strange kid from my junior high who lived as though he were a character in Star Trek. He didn't dress like a crew member or anything (1), but he would talk about himself as an alien. He would pretend to be using a communicator by pressing his hand against his chest and speaking to a commander who was not there. And as much as an outsider as he seemed on this side of the looking glass, what I remember is that he always seemed content.

Truth might be stranger than fiction but it seems there will always be those who prefer fiction to reality. Even when that fiction makes them really, really mad.

1. That I know of.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hot diggety, dog diggety...

I love a good cookbook.

To read.

I'm actually quite bad when it comes to actually cooking from cookbooks. Even when I bake I find myself grabbing shortcuts and changing stuff up. You know, all the stuff that cookbooks tell you not to do when you're baking.

Making a pasta puntanesca? Go nuts. Throw as much or as little of whatever into the pan. A little garlic. A little olive oil. It's all going to work out.

But baking? Baking is science. Baking is chemistry. You have to be precise and exact or woe is you and your sure-to-fail cupcakes (1).

I like food and I like reading about food and looking at the soft focus food porn that illustrates most new cookbooks (2). I like listening to podcasts of Lynne Rossetto Kaspar's The Splendid Table on the subway.

I have been known to engage in very low concept performance art by bringing a few high end food magazines with me to read as I eat at McDonald's or grab a burger at a bar (3).

All this might explain the IM exchange I had today with The Designer. He was asking how things were going with my job and I said that I was still looking and that, if things didn't start looking up soon I was going to be forced to do something desperate.

Like open a hot dog stand...which I would then parlay into a show for the Food Network.

The Designer offered to quit his job to help and suggested that the show be done in the style of The Hills.

This is all sounding more and more like a reasonable solution. All that's left, it seems to me, is coming up with a name.

I'm betting that Haute Dog is already taken (4).

The new Food & Wine is chatting up this spot in Chicago where they do meatloaf cupcakes. That has nothing to do with anything but how can you not love that idea? It's genius.
2. Though I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the illustrations in the original Betty Crocker cookbook.
3. There's nothing like digesting both a cheeseburger and an essay on molecular gastronomy at the same time.
4. Seriously, it is a lot of work to keep coming up with ways of distracting myself from reality...that don't involve tequila.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Decisions, decisions, decisions...

As previously noted, I'm a big fan of comics and graphic novels. Particularly graphic novels.

My friend The Novelist refers to me as a comic snob because, for every dozen or so "must haves" that are announced I'm lucky if one strikes my fancy at all. He's one that picks up a healthy stack of comics every couple of weeks...books that have been held behind the counter for him.

To my mind, a graphic novel has only earned its stripes and title if the art is equal to the writing. If the art is weak then I wonder why the writer didn't just write the story they wanted to tell as a short story or novel. If the writing is weak then my general feeling is that it's not a graphic novel, it's an annotated sketch book.

Which is why, when an online book search popped up Burma Chronicles by graphic novelist Guy Delisle, I got very excited.

I was a huge fan of Delisle's Pyongyang and Schenzhen. Both books are beautifully drawn diaries of his time spent working as an animation supervisor...the first in North Korea, the other in China (1).

And now I am left with a new decision to make. Do I go for the instant gratification and click "Order Now," contributing again to the online bookstore trade? Do I do take the "I'm-a-vegetarian-but-eat-chicken" approach and order online but have it delivered to a bricks-and-mortar? Do I go in and order the book from the actual human being who probably enjoys getting a paycheck and buying groceries? Do I hit one of the last of the locals in our area (2) even though it means waiting at least two days before I can trade my direct subway ride home for a walk/subway/bus trip?

Do I acknowledge that this is just a more fun decision to contemplate than most of the others I have to be making right now?

1. So, yes, this one is about living in Burma.
2. Which is a comic shop. While we have a few local bookstores in the area, the comic shops are really our literary green grocers.