Monday, February 28, 2011

#9: Gasping for Airtime by Jay Mohr

Comedian Jay Mohr spent two tumultuous years on "Saturday Night Live" and lets it all hang out in Gasping for Airtime.

Like a lot of people, I suspect, I don't remember Mohr being on the program, but part of that might have been that it was one of those up-and-down periods when I wasn't watching SNL regularly.  But you don't have to have been a regular viewer during this time period to appreciate his vivid depictions of cutthroat backstage politics and "kill or be killed" colleagues, as well as his unexpurgated views on various celebrities that passed through the doors.

Mohr doesn't let himself off the hook much either and displays his own shortcomings, warts and all.

Curiously, I came across this book shortly after reading The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman, which covers a lot of the same period in SNL history with equally hair-raising frankness.  Both books are also pretty funny and fairly slight.

I borrowed this from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana and found it very readable.  Enjoyable for fans of "Saturday Night Live" especially.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

#8: The Man Who Japed by Philip K. Dick

In a post-apocalyptic future, the world has come under the rule of a rigid, moralistic system of rules and regulations; but a man who produces morality plays for television begins to act out in interesting ways in Philip K. Dick's The Man Who Japed.

This is an early, minor work of Dick's from the late 1950s, but features most of his long-running themes, including flailing marriages, dead-end jobs, and a young woman who galvanizes the main character into action.  But although it is far more straightforward (and thus less psychedelic) than his later works, I still found it enjoyable.

I am a huge fan of Philip K. Dick and, knowing that his output is finite, have been doling out reading his books a little at a time even as I am compelled to finish them all at one go.  I enjoyed this one and believe fans would as well.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Public Library in Richmond Indiana and read it at a good clip.

Monday, February 21, 2011

#7: The Painter of Battles by Arturo Perez-Reverte

A former war photographer has isolated himself in a lighthouse on the Spanish coast, painting a giant mural; soon he is joined by a former soldier who was the subject of one of his most famous photographs and now wants to kill him.  Their conversations about life, death, war, art and love make up the center of Arturo Perez-Reverte's The Painter of Battles.

Although the description makes it sound as if the novel has the barest wisp of a plot, it is a dense, cerebral novel with rewards for the patient (including a surprising, chilling ending).  I am more familiar with Perez-Reverte as the author of the swashbuckling Captain Alatriste series and the memorable, whacked-out The Club Dumas (filmed as The Ninth Gate).  This book is a departure from what I have read into a more literary bent but is quite a good read.

I borrowed this from my wife to read along with a class she is teaching and enjoyed it tremendously.  Recommended. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

#6: The Skeleton Coast Contract by Philip Atlee

Joe Gall, The Nullifier, heads off to Africa to keep a priceless stash of diamonds from Commie hands in Philip Atlee's The Skeleton Coast Contract.

I have read a handful of Atlee's Joe Gall books, featuring a swinging, politically incorrect spy protecting America's interests from the Red Menace.  Like Edward Aarons, Atlee was a prolific paperback writer who should probably receive more attention by contemporary readers.  Unlike Aarons, Atlee's Joe Gall is a little funnier and full of opinions that politely can be called a product of their time.

The Skeleton Coast Contract reads a bit more like a Men's Adventure style book than some of the other entries, with Gall left for dead in the desert and later buried up to his neck and set upon by flesh-eating ants  (though he doesn't wander so far afield that he forgets to leave time for bedding and boozing).

I had about tapped out my Joe Gall collection when I found a surprising handful at a used bookstore.  This entry is from the early 60s, from where I have mined some fresher Atlee novels, and I enjoyed this one quite a bit and read it quickly.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#5: The Bedwetter by Sarah Silverman

Comedian Sarah Silverman pens The Bedwetter, a slight, scattershot autobiography full of her expected gross-out humor.

I have enjoyed Sarah Silverman's television show and was curious what she would have to say in an autobiography penned not halfway through her expected life.  I liked the sections about her career, including a very brief stint on Saturday Night Live and the "behind the scenes" of her show, as well as a long piece on her upbringing as a lone Jew among the blondes of New Hampshire.

I could have done without all of the attempts to shock and felt that, in curious contrast, despite appearances to the contrary the book was not nearly as frank as I expected (as an example, her parents divorce abruptly with no commentary, and her love life is skimmed over).  She spends a lot of time defending the various controversies she has been a part of, seeming at times remarkably thin-skinned considering her material.

I think I enjoyed the book more because I listened to the audiobook version, read by Silverman herself, which I felt lended more interest.  The Bedwetter was an enjoyable enough read but will undoubtedly be more warmly welcomed by fans.

I checked this out from the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond Indiana and consumed it quickly.

Friday, February 4, 2011

#4: The Devil's Star by Joe Nesbo

Harry Hole is a brilliant cop who fights alcoholism and other personal demons; Tom Waaler is his partner, the ace detective in the Oslo police force.  But Hole also believes Waaler is the murderous crime lord Prince, although nobody else believes him.  In a blazing Norwegian summer, these two cops must team up to find a serial killer in Jo Nesbo's The Devil's Star.

Nesbo's first Harry Hole novel translated into English, The Redbreast, is one of my favorites from the large spate of Scandinavian mysteries that have landed on these shores in recent years.  I thought the second in the series, Nemesis, was good but not up to the first one; but The Devil's Star is close, a dark, delirious crime drama chock full of odd characters and colorful writing.  I think Nesbo compares favorably to one of my other must-read crime novelists, Michael Connelly, although Nesbo does not have the body of work yet. 

For better or worse, Nesbo writes in a more American style with plenty of action, and doesn't often dwell in the gloom and doom of his Scandinavian brethren.  Nesbo also injects a lot of quirky humor, a welcome respite from these frequently wintry novels.

I was pleased to find Nesbo's latest at the Morrison-Reeves Library in Richmond, Indiana and read it at a good clip over several snowed-in days.  Recommended.