Monday, March 23, 2009


Three more this week...

The 20 minute Gardener: Tom Christopher/Marty Asher -This is a book for those of us who vainly hope to raise a garden in their backyard, but who can't seem to find the time. One of these days, I'll have a little place where I can raise peppers, garlic and herbs. I dream of having fruit trees and keeping weird flowers. I also think it would be great if I could grow dope on the front porch (which I could trade for tomatoes and pretty much everything else the neighbors grew), which seems about as likely as me having a cherry tree and a peach tree in the backyard. Anyway, this book gives some basic information and a lot of encouragement. It makes the idea of trying a small, manageable garden seem possible --if not entirely probable in my case.

The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs: Irvine Welsh -Not his usual work. I like Welsh, but several of his books (Trainspotting, for example) are disjointed, stream of consciousness kind of things heavy on image and mood. They can seem very non-linear. The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs is a straightforward story about Danny Skinner and Brian Kibbey, who are bound under an odd curse. Whatever evils befall or are inflicted on one are transferred to the other.

What makes it fun is they hate each other. In standard Welsh form, the contemptible (Skinner) takes out his rage on the innocent (Kibbey) through self-debasement. He takes a crippling amount of booze and drugs, gets hurt and manages to force poor Kibbey into a hospital.

The book revisits Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Corsican Brothers, only with a wry sense of humor and a deeper emotional contract with the characters. The conclusion is a bit predictable, but Welsh manages to twist it, making it deliberately unsatisfying. He purposely takes the joy out of Skinner's deserved retribution. Irvine Welsh is a weird, but brilliant asshole.

Democracy Matters: Cornel West - Ugh. Okay, growing up, my best friend's dad was a barely educated hothead who worked at the local factory. He chain-smoked cheap cigarettes and when he was in a mood, would explain all of life's mysteries. He bemoaned the fact people couldn't walk around all the time armed like Mel Gibson in The Road Warrior. He saw many of the country's problems as the cause of overeducated idiots, well-meaning busy bodies who didn't get out much --oh, and mysteriously, black people. I could never figure that one out.

Giles County was something like 3 percent black and 97 percent white... and my friend's father scarcely left the county.

Anyway, regardless of whatever truth was in what he was complaining about, it all came down to the usual complaints of who was screwing things up. When necessary, he revised events to make them fit. He changed the context of things, altered their motivations, and made weird leaps of logic. Most of the time, he seemed to say, all the problems of the world would be solved if everyone would just do what he said.

I think Cornel West and my friend's dad would have gotten along famously. While West's usual drumbeat of "blame the white man" is still a lot of fun to listen to, it's myopic and oversimplified. He focuses on black/white race issues, but glosses over the other varieties. He puts some weight behind condemning Christian and Jewish groups (particularly white groups) for their intolerance and political stands, but seems to soft-soap Islam. He also puts far too much value on the blues, jazz and hip-hop culture as being powerful instruments of democratic political change. Um... no.

To me, West's book sounded like a lot of cherry-picking to support an antagonistic view of America that verges on parody. It was a difficult kind of read and unsatisfying. I keep thinking I should have gotten something besides a feeling West is highly educated, very well-spoken, but ultimately narrow-minded.

I'll have to read something else by him, give it another go. Maybe I'm missing something.

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