Puff Chrissy’s Shelf Porn: Part 7


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Welcome back.

Mike Dawson’s Freddie & Me is a book I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. Though I’ve enjoyed all of Dawson’s previous work (I especially love Cabaret), I figured a biographical look at his life through his love of Freddie Mercury might not be my cup of tea. But Dawson accomplished so much with this book it’s ridiculous. Not only is it an excellent study of the power of memory and storytelling, it’s a wonderful metafictional exploration of how the things we love – the music, the books, the movies – shape us. Stunning work. I won’t have any doubts with any of his future projects, that’s for sure.

Hunter S. Thompson’s Generation of Swine is another entry in my Thompson library. This isn’t his best effort, but there’s enough good stuff here that can’t be ignored.

Marek Krajewski’s Death in Breslau and End of the World in Breslau are the first and second translated entries in his Breslau books. While the main character of Inspector Eberhard Mock is the big draw here, it’s the snapshot of Breslau (now Wroclaw) pre-World War II that makes it so harrowing and heartbreaking. Full of corruption and murder, the true crime of the story comes from watching good people become overwhelmed by the system and turning into horrifying shadows of themselves. If you enjoy crime and history, this book should be mandatory reading. Can’t wait to read the next one.

I know I’m supposed to pretend to be smart and swear that I’ve read both The Derrida Reader and Of Grammatology, but in reality, I’ve only read excerpts from both when the mood strikes me. I find that Derrida tends to be overused and namedropped a little too easily – at times, it feels like just a way to justify another person’s thesis – and it’s important to remember that Derrida, like all great philosophers, was a prankster as well, and that he’s having fun with his ideas. I got the impression from one the documentaries I watched about him that even he was a little surprised by how people clung to his every word. That all said, what I’ve read and managed to digest was great, but I can only take his work in small doses.

The Ayn Rand Lexicon, and later in the shelf, Introduction of Objectivist Epistemology and The Voice of Reason were all books I read religiously back in my university days. These days, I prefer her fiction over these books.

When I think of Loneliness on the Net by Janusz L. Wiśniewski, I get physically annoyed at how awful and bad this book is. This was a hit in Poland and when I saw the translated version of it, I was thrilled to pick it up, as I’m as interested in Polish literature – pop or not – as any other. First off, the translation is painful, the book is littered with grammar errors to the point of distraction, and to top it off, Wiśniewski’s writing is perhaps the most arrogant writing I’ve ever read. Painfully awful.

And Then There’s This by Bill Wasik was recommended to me by a friend. And while it’s a nice book with some interesting information, I can’t help but feel it falls short from being something great. Still though, there’s plenty to like, and if you have an interest in music and marketing, there should be stuff in here for you to enjoy.

William McKeen’s biography of Hunter S. Thompson is a great read, especially once you’ve read through Thompson’s library and are interested in separating the man from the myth. Worth picking up.

I have no idea where I got this, but I do remember reading The Best American Erotica 1995 and enjoying it. If I’m not mistaken, Nicholson Baker had a piece in here – an excerpt from his novel Fermata – that was interesting.

Garrison Keillor’s Leaving Home is also on my Reading Pile. I can’t wait to dig in. I have a lot of love for Keillor’s storytelling. You can read what I’ve written about him before here.

You can read my review of Adam P. Knave’s Stays Crunchy in Milk here. And you can read my interview with him here. A fun book.

Olga Tokarczuk’s House of Day, House of Night is an exceptional example of modern Polish literature. It took me a few pages to understand Tokarczuk’s approach to writing, but once I did, the book did a number on me. Beautiful, sad, playful and with just enough magic at the edges to be a real favorite. Can’t wait to get more of her work.

Night of January 16th is something I haven’t picked up in a long time. I love the idea of the audience being able to determine the play’s ending. The book should be highlighted quite a bit if I’m remembering right.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee comes next. And is there anything I could possibly say that hasn’t been said before? It’s a classic. It’s wonderful. Read it!

My first Hemingway book was this one, The Moveable Feast. While I enjoyed it, it wasn’t enough for me to think he was anything special. It wasn’t until years later that I really jumped into his work. I think I resisted him for a long time because I was tired of being told how great he was. And yeah, he’s great.

The Complete Shorter Fiction of Herman Melville is awesome. There’s a nice introduction in here by John Updike that sets the stage perfectly. Lots and lots of amazing stories here by a real American treasure. If you were like me and turned off by Moby Dick, please give his short stories a chance.

Good Omens was the first novel I ever read by Neil Gaiman and the only novel I ever read by Terry Pratchett, and because they’re good at what they do, it’s hard to tell who did what. A funny book that needs to be revisited.

The Lovecraft Papers by P.H. Cannon is a nice distraction for fans of Lovecraft, but really nothing else.

Look, it’s the Sartre book that everybody who went to university in the world had!

Miguel de Unamuno’s Mist is worth reading if you want to see an interesting early 20th century metafictional novel, especially in terms of the writing meeting his character, but that’s about all the recommendation I can give it.

Kitchen is the first of three Banana Yoshimoto books, with Lizard and NP showing up later on the right. I’ve read all three, and Kitchen is one I’ve read twice. She works the same kind of dream logic Haruki Murakami does, and she does it well. But her writing feels so light that I feel like I’m missing something.

The Selected Stories of Franz Kafka is a book that you can’t go wrong with. Wonderful stuff all around.

And Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and White Fang, which I haven’t read since I was a little boy. I’m anxious to rediscover London’s work someday soon.

We finally get to some of Ayn Rand’s fiction. We the Living is one of the books people tend to overlook when talking about Rand. The preach-factor is pulled back here and it’s a solid story. Anthem isn’t something I can say I enjoyed. And The Fountainhead is my absolute favorite, having read it five times now (I used to read it once a year). I know the problems with the book and you can see Rand shaping the bigger ideas she’ll expand on in Atlas Shrugged, but I love this story. I love Howard Roark and his determination. Even if you don’t subscribe to the philosophy, it’s such a kick ass story.

More Donald Barthelme, this time with Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts, and two books down, Snow White. I love Barthelme’s short fiction, so Snow White doesn’t do as much for me. That said, he did do some cool things with his novels that are fun to explore. Barthelme is one of those writers I wish I could’ve met when he was alive.

John Twelve Hawks’ The Traveller is one of those books I wanted to like. I picked it up for a trip hoping for something light to pass the time, and instead I got a painful read that somehow managed to get worse with every chapter. And though it ended on a cliffhanger, it felt more like the writer just ran out of steam, rather than hitting something natural.

Matthew Pearl’s The Poe Shadow gets a lot of points for detailing Poe’s death and the circumstances surrounding it in an entertaining way. While I kept turning the pages, I can’t help but think I would’ve liked the book more if I wasn’t so attached to Poe.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is good reading, but cold.

Milton’s Paradise Lost is something I experienced in university but never returned to. Not sure if I ever will, but I do like reading his poetry.

Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein is good, but certainly not great, especially when you’ve read his comic book work and know what he’s capable of. The big problem with the book was all the things the protagonist confronts are rehashes of all the things Ellis had posted links to over the years, so in many ways, the book felt like a review for those of us who follow him online.

And that’s it for this week’s double-dose of shelf porn. See you next time.

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About Christian A. Dumais

Christian A. Dumais is an American writer, humorist and public speaker living in Wrocław, Poland. He has published fiction, journalism, and academic articles in several magazines and journals such as GUD, Shock Totem and Ha!Art. His first collection of short stories, Empty Rooms Lonely Countries, was published in 2009. He also created, edited, and contributed to Cover Stories, a euphictional anthology of 100 stories inspired by songs, which was published in 2010. His most recent book is SMASHED: The Life and Tweets of Drunk Hulk.

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