(Ed.– Today’s review comes from guest reviewer Chris Smith. We here at Shiny Book Review thank Chris for stepping up and delivering this review, and hope that he sticks around for more.)
I blame it on Howard Stern. The idea that crude and obnoxious is inherently funny. For him, it worked. I think part of that was the fact that it had never been done in such an obviously over the top way. I’m not a fan of Stern’s show, but I’m willing to give him credit for being a pioneer of sorts in the ‘shock value entertainment’ industry.
Unfortunately, his success spawned imitators. Lots of imitators. Oh Dear and Forgiving (insert favorite God, Goddess, Higher Power, or Celebrity) the imitators. Each newcomer, it seemed, had less talent, and less wit, than the one that had come before. I quit listening to morning shows on terrestrial radio, the natural spawning ground for the species. They made their way to satellite, infecting the airwaves I paid for, trying to escape. There is now one station I can’t listen to on Fridays, simply because they play a certain host’s show for three hours in the morning, and then replay another three hours of “The Best of.”
Then came MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and all the rest of the social media. Whatever good has come from social media- yes, there is some good, be it keeping long distance friends in touch with each other, getting to know your favorite authors, free publicity for your business, etc.- the format has also brought out the ‘140 character brain dump’ style of commentary. Some of it is good. Most is not. The shock jocks had found a new format. The virus spread.
So this is what it has come to, then. A collection of what seems to be a bunch of Facebook posts, blog entries and assorted ‘Deep Thoughts’ (the old SNL bit, not something deep and profound) liberally sprinkled with bathroom “humor”, penis “jokes”, and direct references to masturbation.
I’m not using quotes here in an attempt to sound elite or snobby, I actually don’t have a problem with low humor done well. “Blazing Saddles” is one of my all time favorites, and still brings me to tears with the infamous ‘bean scene.’ I thought the first “Hangover” was hysterical. Louis CK has the ability to be crass and over the top, yet still come off as a likeable guy. “40 year old virgin?” Modern classic.
No, I use quotes simply because, unlike Mel Brooks, the author seems to assume that just mentioning his defecation or masturbation is somehow funny, with very little setup, attempted wit, or punch line. Or point, for that matter.
I can’t say I wasn’t warned, though. It was right there in the introduction. Following a short sample, we get this: ”Had enough? That’s pretty much what you’re going to get if you read this book. Don’t know what the point is? Neither do I most of the time.”
Fair enough, the sample was crude, but had potential. I read on. Three or four entries in, I found myself losing hope. What had seemed somewhat promising was not getting any better. I started counting the pages until my minimum, looking forward to putting this all behind me.
Roughly a third of the way through, the promise of improvement came back. There were a few stories, such as “A whole lot of shaking going on” and “New Year’s Day” that started out strong and fizzled at the end. The feeling crept over me that this author, when confronted with a story that went somewhere, panicked and scuttled it before it became a fully developed piece.
I glared at the remaining page count, resenting the fact that I had been teased with something good, only to have it snatched away at the last line.
What kept going through my head was that the author, for better or worse, was taking George Carlin’s later routines, Dane Cook’s current routines and attempting to write them in Dave Barry’s irreverent style. With less than spectacular results.
Then I read “States of Grace.” It started out as more of the same, and to be honest, it took everything I had to keep going. Then the unexpected happened; the final line made me go back and read it again. My jaw dropped. In this one story, everything I had been hoping for had finally made an appearance. Plot, character growth, and yes! an actual point! It even showed the deeper and more introspective side of the author that had been hinted at earlier entries.
Dare I say this was a new direction for the rest of the book?
I read the next entry, “Stop bullying racists”, with hope in my heart, and a new look at the author. More of the same, but there was humor under the surface, waiting-just waiting, I knew it!- to burst forth. It didn’t.
A few more like that, same results. The potential was there, so close I could touch it, but never fully realized.
I checked the page count. Home stretch, twenty or so to go to minimum. I can do this.
I should have seen it coming. Whipping through the pages before the intermission, I slogged through ‘meh’ (“Easter realization”),’hunh?’ (“Al goes his own way”), not bad but needs polish (“Little ditty bout Jack and Diana”), weird-in-a-good-way (“The perpetual scary-go-round”), then touching and insightful (“Piedmont”). “Piedmont” was like “States of Grace,” it caught me off guard and felt genuine.
Then came “Bad advice for writers.” The author lays out his method and theory on writing. As I read the piece, the feelings of minor irritation at some of the lackluster entries disappear, turning into something more like relief. Here’s why; After the analogy of a best-selling author as a parade, and himself as the janitor that cleans up after, the author says “Usually there are a few people who are looking down and finding something more interesting caught in a storm grate or written in fading spray paint on an alley wall. They buy books as well. Just not my books. Yet. And they deserve the very least I can provide.”
Well, if this is the very least the author could provide, I don’t feel so bad about thinking most of it was crap. This isn’t something he had put a lot of time into creating, which is reinforced by the line “Just write it down. Don’t worry about the “craft,” that only applies to about a dozen people. The rest of us are just churning s**t out.”
To be honest, he’s probably right, and given the culture of shock value entertainment I mentioned earlier, will continue to be right for years to come.
Fine. I accept that this is not something you care about enough to give your best effort.
Then came the intermission, and the swearing. On my part, and for once, not the author’s. This is your only warning on spoilers, because frankly, if my reprinting this line from the intermission ruins the effect that the author had in mind, GOOD. He doesn’t deserve to get the effect. Not after this:
“Please keep in mind that the purpose of these stories is not to immerse you in some epic saga but instead act as a catalyst for your own imagination. If you’ve gotten to this point and haven’t already come up with much better endings for some of the stories or even much better stories that you wouldn’t have thought of unless you were reading this book then you might be missing the point … although I will give you credit for sticking with it then.”
No. Just no. You don’t get to say this after laying out your “write down anything that comes to mind” manifesto. I could accept that, and possibly be interested in reading the rest of the book to find some gems. Not now.
Screw you, dude. You copped out. I can’t help but envision you sitting at your laptop, reading over what you had compiled, not liking it, and then coming up with this BS reason for putting it all together. It comes off as a desperate attempt to strive for a loftier goal, and a weak attempt at convincing me that this is what you planned all along.
I don’t buy it. I feel betrayed.
If this were an actual paper book, I wouldn’t give it the honor of “hurling it across the room with great force.” It would be taken out back and dropped in a bucket of water, so no accidental reading could occur. Then I’d toss it out while driving on a back road. That’s it, the very least I could do to make sure it didn’t find its way into anyone else’s hands.
All moot, though, as I was given a PDF to read. It galls me that I have to go through the process of deleting it from my hard drive, as I don’t feel that this work deserves any more of my time or attention.