I really don’t understand the concept of summer reading. Do people really have more free time for reading in summer than they do in winter? Maybe some lucky souls do have time to live out the image perpetuated by the publishing industry — a bathing-suited person lying on a beach complete with umbrella, towel, sunglasses, a drink and a book. The majority of us have to squeeze in a few pages here and there on our lunch hours, or before we pass out at night. So this week let’s look at a few books not exactly made for the beach but for the absurdities of everyday life.
Walt “Clyde” Frazier was a great basketball player in the early 1970s. He won two championships with the New York Knicks; more importantly, he played with style and dressed like a pimp with his fur coats, funky facial hair and loud leisure suits. After retiring, he became an NBA broadcaster and realized he needed to improve his vocabulary. His newfound love of language led him to write Word Jam: An Electrifying, Mesmerizing, Gravity-Defying Guide to a Powerful and Awesome Vocabulary ($6.95). It’s not quite clear if this book is directed at kids or adults. Yes, there are lots of illustrations, but there are also seven-syllable words with detailed histories of their Greek and Latin roots. Regardless, it’s refreshing, reinvigorating and delightful — and not lugubrious, mournful or mundane — to see an ex-athlete do something to improve human communication.
Americans have strange relationships with fast food. Some embrace its value and convenience; others consider it an unpleasant last resort when money runs tight. Joe Wenderoth understands the complexity of fast food, Wendy’s “restaurant” in particular. His Letters to Wendy’s ($14) is a compilation-diary of a year’s worth of observations written on those small customer-satisfaction surveys found on the tables at Wendy’s. That red-haired, pony-tailed little Wendy will not appear so innocent after you’ve spent time in Wenderoth’s world. Part fiction, part philosophy and part pornography, this is a great book — think Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Notes from Underground for our times. Each entry is no more than seven or eight lines long and features commentary that catches you off guard, for example, “As I get older, it gets harder to keep myself from touching the other customers in line.” Visit www.versepress.org to purchase or find out more about this crazy book.
Steve Earle is one of the more popular musicians in the alt-country movement — music that is kinda country but sorta rocky. His songs are OK, but he’s so popular because of his life story — early fame, then years of drug abuse followed by a productive recovery and social activism. Now he has written a collection of short stories, Doghouse Roses ($22). The title refers to those single, usually fake or really unhealthy, roses sold on convenience store counters for $1.99. In the title story, we learn that giving these roses actually works to get a man out of the “doghouse” with his woman. We also learn that Earle is not a good fiction writer. When not yawning, I cringed at lines like “The first time he saw her he loved her.” Even worse, there’s a story (“Tanneytown”) based on one of his own songs and narrated through the voice of a black, retarded man-child. It’s as awful as it sounds. If you want a good dose of alt-country, then go buy Lucinda Williams’ new CD, Essence, or Whiskeytown’s Pneumonia.
Gloss and concepts
Cool magazines come and go within a year or two for a number of reasons. Luckily, Colors Magazine has managed to survive since the early 1990s. Every issue is devoted to one theme (Water, Death, Love, etc.) and features color photographs with accompanying commentary in at least two languages (English, Italian, Spanish, etc.). Colors is affiliated with Benetton clothing, so it has the dough necessary for its sleek layout. See for yourself at newsstands, on the Web site (www.colorsmagazine.com) or purchase the new book, Colors 1000 Extra/Ordinary Objects — a collection of strange objects used by people all over the globe. Zapatista dolls, portable bidets, boxing headgear and on and on. Also included is a section of yellow pages filled with the information you need to find hard-to-locate items such as Salvador Dali moustaches. (You can also amuse yourself by strolling through an online gallery of objects from the book, based on an actual exhibit assembled in Florence last year.)What grabs your attention? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org