Podcast Pick of the Week: Superego

Check it out at gosuperego.com

This week’s pick is Superego: Profiles in Self-ObsessionSuperego is the brainchild of improv veterans, Jeremy Carter and Matt Gourley (along with friends, Mark McConville and Jeff Crocker).  It’s a sketch comedy show, featuring a cavalcade of odd characters, each demonstrating a different personality disorder.   Every skit is improvised and then edited down to razor sharp silliness.  And it’s addictively funny.

Listen to one episode of Superego and you’ll want to download all them at once.   Then you’ll listen to them one-after-the-other with feverish obsession, until you come out of your haze surrounded by tar-balled Internets.  Go ahead and laugh.  In the words of my favorite Superego character, Imogene Kanouse:  “This is going to happen.”

This podcast may be called Superego, but it’s pure unadulterated Id.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Buy it at Amazon.com

The 150-word Review: Heads.  Heads.  Heads. Tom Stoppard’s tragicomedy, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, opens with one hundred fifty-two coin flips that land “heads” each time, prompting Guildenstern to posit that they are “held within sub- or supernatural forces.”  In a way, they are.  The improbability of the coin flips—and also of the duo’s fate—is written.  They are held within Stoppard’s brilliantly absurd lines and, ultimately, within the titular line originally spun by the Bard.

And so, too, is the protagonist of The Unnamed held within the sub- or supernatural force of Joshua Ferris’ invention.  Tim Farnsworth suffers from a heretofore unimaginable disorder:  the irresistible compulsion to walk and walk and walk to the point of exhaustion.  When his affliction strikes for the third time, Tim and his family are plunged into a remarkable struggle to hold onto to familiar ties and find order amidst a world that artfully has none.

You will like this book if you’re a fan of: entropy, Then We Came To The End, the countryside, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, ambitious prose, The Myth of Sisyphus, and beating the sophomore slump.

Cliff Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): You know Norm, Joshua Ferris is a graduate of the UC Irvine MFA Writing Program, along with notable alumni Michael Chabon and Richard Ford, to name a few.

Some Things I’m Currently Loving… The Audiobook of Lush Life by Richard Price

Buy it at Audible.com

Buy it at Audible.com

After succumbing one too many times to reading-induced nausea caused by the jaunty trek over Seattle’s lovingly unmaintained streets on the #18 express—that, and the realization that my eyes are shot after years of abuse—I decided to give Audible.com a whirl.  I’ve never been much of an auditory learner.  My listening/hearing skills are for shit.  I usually forget a person’s name immediately after an introduction.  I never remember song lyrics.  And don’t even bother reciting a phone number to me.  It ain’t happening.  So I wasn’t sure how my initial audiobook experiences would go.

My first selection was Dune by Frank Herbert, which soon became a tedious ordeal, in part because I didn’t care for the story whatsoever, despite its status as a sci-fi classic, and because the British narrator’s refined elocution put me straight to sleep.  I had to continually skip back and re-listen to entire chapters to make sense of the story.  My second selection was Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, which went a little better.  The novel was chock full of eccentric Swedes, serial murder, ex-Nazis, and sex.  It was clipping along as an ideal crime/mystery/thriller should, until it came to the hour-and-a-half long denouement.  I also unwittingly picked the very same British narrator.  So instead of seeing a movie in my head, I saw a dour Englishman sitting in the library by the fire, reading to me from a leather bound tome. Night-y nite.

Now I’m onto something.  After seeing Lush Life live in my Amazon.com recommendations for months and hearing an interview with Richard Price on Fresh Air, I decided to give audiobooks one more try. I’m glad I did.  I was searching for a “movie in my head” experience and I found it.  If you’ve ever seen the movie, Clockers, or are a fan of The Wire, then you’re familiar with Richard Price’s work.  Lush Life brilliantly depicts the story of a shooting that takes place in Manhattan’s lower east side, a seemingly straight forward case that quickly, and unexpectedly, gets very complicated.  Shifting from various points of view–from detectives, to eyewitnesses, to suspects, to victims—Price paints an intricate mosaic that captures the complexities of the case and of the neighborhood that is as much a part of the story as the characters.  But the main reason I’m loving this audiobook is the narration by Bobby Cannavale, whose throaty baritone drips with authenticity–from the street-slang of the projects to the gritty patois of police procedure–providing the ideal complement to Price’s pitch-perfect dialogue.

Twitter Fiction

Interesting article  on Salon.com by Barry Yourgrau about the literay rage in Japan, keitai shosetsu or the cellphone novel– and its cultural analog in the States, Twitter fiction.  The article is titled, Call Me Ishmael.  The End.  Clever.

Serena by Ron Rash

Buy it at Amazon.com

Buy it at Amazon.com

The 150-word Review: Tennyson wrote, “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” to evoke the merciless indifference of the natural world—the violent struggle for survival among animals.  It would’ve also been an apt description of Serena Pemberton, the title character in Ron Rash’s historical novel, Serena, whose drive to impose her will on nature, fueled by unrepentant ambition and greed, cuts a swath through the Appalachian highlands and enemies alike.

Although Serena’s villainy serves as the narrative center for Ron Rash’s historical and ecological tragedy, it is the glimpses into the lives of those around her that give the novel its remarkable heft.  From George Pemberton, her vain and weak-willed husband; to the superstitious cutting crew, whose folksy banter pushes the plot forward like a Greek chorus; to the teenaged mother of Pemberton’s illegitimate son, whose determined struggle to protect her child from Serena’s wrath serves as a counterpoint to her ruthless single-mindedness.

You will like this book if you’re a fan of: Lady Macbeth, John Muir, Appalachia, lumberjacks, southern gothic, laissez-faire capitalism, one-armed assassins, nascent environmentalism, rugged self-determination, Greek choruses, blind clairvoyants, and just desserts.

Cliff Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Ron Rash is currently the Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Buy it at Amazon.com

Buy it at Amazon.com

The 150-word Review: With Slumdog Millionaire’s explosion into the world’s zeitgeist, modern-day India with its unrestrained energy and its arresting pastiche of colors, textures, and sounds has become a microcosm of globalization.  It’s a bridge between the old world and the new.  Much like Slumdog, Booker-winning The White Tiger captures this same dynamic, but through the idiosyncratic mind of one unforgettable character.

In a series of letters to Wen Jiabao, the Premier of the People’s Republic of China, Balram Halwai describes his life’s journey from a peasant lost in the Darkness of rural India to a chauffeur in Delhi to a successful entrepreneur in Bangalore.  In a remarkably unrepentant voice (reminiscent of Meursault from Camus’ The Stranger), Balram pontificates on the indignities of the caste system, the shackles of the traditional Indian family, and the chasm between the Haves and the Have-nots–and the horrific means he’s taken to control his own destiny.

You will like this book if you’re a fan of: Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, outsourcing, a Honda City, chandeliers, Murder Weekly, political corruption, and moral ambiguity.

Cliff Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Aravind Adiga was formerly a journalist for the Financial Times and TIME magazine.

Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman

Buy it at Amazon.com

Buy it at Amazon.com

The 150-word Review: To anyone who’s read Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs or his Esquire articles, it’s obvious:  Chuck Klosterman knows pop culture.   Under his lens, it’s as essential-and mundane-as breakfast cereal.  But what if Klosterman turned his eyes on a place untouched by popular culture?  You’d get Owl, North Dakota.

The residents of Owl aren’t much different than the rest of us.  They have the news, soap operas, sports heroes, and entertainments; but instead of CNN, it’s 3PM at the coffee shop, instead of Carrie Bradshaw, it’s the new history teacher at Owl High, instead of John Elway, it’s the local legend (and “the play”), and instead of the WWE, it’s Grendel (the oafish giant) vs. Cubby Candy (the town psycho).  Mixing equal parts Garrison Keillor and Raymond Carver (with a dash of David Sedaris), Klosterman proves that downtown Owl is as fascinatingly banal, otherworldly familiar, and glibly violent as anywhere else.

You will like this book if you’re a fan of: the etymology of nicknames, extreme libertarianism, snow, gin and tonics, hypothetical fisticuffs, cassette tapes, George Orwell, mid-western ennui, coffee, and 8-man football.

Cliff Clavinism (stuff that will not make you look cool in a bar): Actually Norm, Chuck Klosterman grew up in rural North Dakota and chronicled his experience growing up there as a heavy metal fan in Fargo Rock City.