Preference Personnelle
Sunday, July 24
Someday, I will catch up with this backlog of books.

Bling: A Novel, Erica Kennedy
What do you call those novels where, like, thinly-veiled versions of real people do things that resemble their real lives? It's not slash. It's not a bildungsroman--that's a coming-of-age story, more or less, right? And it's not a roman a clef, right? Wait, yeah it is. I used to be more confident in my knowledge of this kind of stuff. Anyway, I'm not even sure whether Bling is that kind of book.
I like blurbs. Have I mentioned my desire to create a social-networking-style website detailing book blurbs? This trashy, hip-hoppin', fairly well-written novel (at least by comparison to some of the others in its genre) has blurbs from Jackie Collins, Russell Simmons and Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, who wrote The Dirty Girls Social Club. Guess which one of them calls it 'a contemporary The Great Gatsby.'
I'm kind of dancing around the actual book here. It's a comedy of manners, and a romance, and it's got a fairly happy ending (and an epilogue of the kind that appears in Animal House and Fast Times at Ridgemont High). It's no Gatsby (on the other hand, the jacket copy compares it to Cinderella, and it's not nearly that bad, either), but it's a good time. And the chapters are named after hip-hop songs, which is about the only thing it has in common with

Where You're At: Notes From the Frontline of a Hip-Hop Planet, Patrick Neate
A white middle-class Brit starts to write a book about his relationship with hip-hop, and the music/culture's lasting appeal for him, but instead winds up writing a kind of thoughtful travelogue about race, reinvention and a world culture that mostly hates the U.S. and mostly, to quote a song that (Parisian) DJ Cam sampled, loves hip-hop like Madonna loves dick.
Neate visits Brooklyn, Paris, Johannesburg, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. He goes to crappy talent shows and talks to people who say things like "It's all good. It's positivity. People come together from the community to make something positive" and "I'm going to be the DMX of Africa!" and "At the time, hip-hop was really just Michael Jackson." He does some philosophizing. He cites W.E.B. Du Bois, Nicholas Negroponte, Tricia Rose and PM Dawn. Someone calls him a ghetturista. Someone calls him a gaijin. He uses the word 'glocalized' repeatedly.
It's a serious, thoughtful book about hip-hop. It makes cogent arguments, considers the wider culture, mixes b-boys with politicians and marketing executives and mostly focuses on people you've never heard of. Books like this are far too rare (but more are getting published all the time). Neate is like the Pico Iyer of hip-hop journalism--good stuff.
Friday, July 15
A book I've read recently, and some I read months ago:

Spanking the Donkey: Dispatches from the Dumb Season, Matt Taibbi
Perhaps you're familiar with the eXile, or you've read his work in the New York Press (an aside: I've seen a lot of promos lately for a teevee show that will remain nameless, and the promos always mention the rave reviews said program got in the New York Post and the Washington Times. That's how they always say it. Do you think they're trying to trick us?) and Rolling Stone, or maybe you caught him on The Daily Show the other day. Taibbi is kind of a gonzo journalist type, and here he writes about the 2004 presidential election. He eats mushrooms, he puts on a gorilla suit, he lies his way into a volunteer position on Bush's Florida campaign. Frequently hilarious and occasionally insightful, this is the best book about elections I've read this year.

Lummox: The Evolution of a Man, Mike Magnuson
Magnuson details, very amusingly, the kind of life that takes you from being a drunk and pseudo-homeless teenager, sleeping in a grammar school music room, to being a mid-level English professor and creative writing instructor. I'm a fan of his style and tone, and there are some very funny bits here. It's an entertaining memoir, and, as with all good memoirs, there are some teachable moments. But is Magnuson still a beer-drunk, chain-smoking lummox? Interestingly, no.

Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180, Mike Magnuson

Instead, Magnuson, somewhere on the high side of 30, has decided to become a very serious road bike rider. Good for him. I'm not a huge fan of these 'you can do it' kinda fitness books, and my favorite moments from HoW are the ones where Mike describes how abandoning smoking and drinking has made him less accessible to his graduate students and alienated him from academic culture, or creative-writing culture anyway. It makes a great companion piece, though.

The Big Show: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards, Steve Pond
What did I learn from this book? I should be watching the Oscars. Many, many celebrities are smokers. Martin Landau is kind of an asshole. When 'Blame Canada,' from the South Park movie, was being cleared for use in the show, they were concerned with a line that referred to Anne Murray as a bitch. She was cool with it, though. The Oscar production staff briefly considered having Patrick Stewart do a dramatic recitation of Eminem's 'Lose Yourself,' but Capt. Picard wasn't down (I bet Shatner would've done it). Good for award show fans, celebrity gossip types, people who like backstage books, etc.

American Skin: Pop Culture, Big Business and the End of White America, Leon E. Wynter

Wynter created the Wall Street Journal 'Business and Race' column. How do you get a job like that? The cultural criticism doesn't offer a lot of new insights, but he's savvy enough about business and marketing to more than make up for it. Worth reading.

Travels With Barley: A Journey Through Beer Culture in America, Ken Wells
How much do you like beer? Enough that you'll suffer through writing about honky-tonks and local color in order to get to stuff about craft brewers and varieties of hops (or vice versa)? This is kind of a beer-themed travelogue, and kind of a cultural study of the modern beer scene, and it's not bad. What's more, this is, as far as I know, the first book to cover a lot of this kind of ground. It'll look nice next to your Michael Jackson books. (Aside: if you heard the name 'Michael Jackson' in the context of beer and said to yourself 'Doesn't he prefer Jesus juice?,' you're probably not part of this book's target audience.) TWB mentions my favorite Little Rock beer-snob joints, The Flying Saucer and Bosco's, but does not mention my favorite Cleveland beer-snob joint, La Cave du Vin (or the Great Lakes Brewing Company, for that matter).
Wednesday, July 13
One of my favorite things about web consumerism is the way it facilitates what's known as 'light customization.' Generally, this is accomplished with Flash-based geegaws that somehow encourage really hideous color combinations. I'm hoping to revise this post as more examples of this kind of thing occur to me, so if you encounter others, please let me know.

Converse--custom-colored Chuck Taylors
Customatix--custom-colored sneakers
Nike--custom-colored Shox, Dunks, etc.
Vans--custom-colored Old Skools, slip-ons

Neighborhoodies--t-shirts, sweatshirts, etc. with custom colors and logos
Lids CYO--baseball caps with custom colors and logos
Lands' End--shirts, pants, etc. in custom colors and dimensions

Freitag--messenger bags
L. L. Bean--tote bags, daypacks and messenger bags
Queen Bee--no longer makes custom items
Timbuk2--messenger bags
R.E.Load--more messenger bags

Diamond rings:
DeBeers--Note: Your diamonds have blood on them.

Gerber--Alas, no more custom multi-tools. Just for that, Gerber, I'm going to start trying to do for 'Leatherman' what people did for Kleenex and Xerox.
A lagniappe of cultural kitsch and B-movie claptrap

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