What we’re reading

I decided to get back to some fiction early in the year. My reading had been slowing down, and I'd been a little overwhelmed by life in general. Fiction always provides a nice respite, which in turn lets me relax in other aspects of my life, and now I'm all relaxed and ready as spring hits here in coastal Georgia.

Some recent reads:

Doomed by Chuck Palahniuk. Madison Spencer, who beat Satan at his own game in Damned, returns to the world of the living for her annual Halloween candy collection (candy bars are currency in Hell), but through some trickery on Satan's part, gets stuck for the year (if you're not back in Hell by midnight, see ya next year).

She had previously communicated to her Hollywood do-gooder parents that the way to Heaven was through general rudeness: cussing and flatulating cheerfully. She was kidding, of course, and now she faces an Earth full of joyfully disgusting humans, all doomed to Hell for their behavior, thanks to her. And she's back to fix it.

Palahniuk is the author of Fight Club and a pile of other books I love, and while this isn't among my favorites of his, it's definitely good for a few hours of escapism.

Not a Star by Nick Hornby. What happens when you're a middle class English mum and you come home to a DVD slipped through your mail slot, and the guy on the cover looks a lot like your son? What happens when you discover it is your son? What happens when the film on the DVD is pornographic?

Hornby is another one of my favorites (High Fidelity, A Long Way Down, others), and this novella from the Open Door series is great for a rainy day with a cup of coffee.

Bad Monkeys by Mike Ruff. I'm not sure how I've never heard of Ruff before (I mean, there's a quote on the book's cover from Christopher Moore), but this book is a twisted, paranoid look at the world. I don't even want to give much away, but if you think you're being watched, you probably are — but not by the government or your ex.

I've said too much.

January reading

Here are thoughts on what I've read during the month of January.

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species. Darwin's seminal work is primarily based on a combination of observation and speculation. Say what you want about creation vs. evolution and the scientific method, but Darwin went in, studied, and wrote about what he saw. I think there are a fair number of things we can take away and apply to ourselves today. Go read that post; it's too long to include in a brief summary like this.

Chuck Palahniuk, Damned. Long-time friends and readers will know I'm a big fan of Chuck Palahniuk's books. I've read most of them; I'll probably wind up skipping his portrait of Portland, Oregon, and the "remix" version of his novel Invisible Monsters, which essentially is an alternate ordering of the chapters (I have, however, been waiting for the film version forver – the prose comes together more neatly than did Fight Club, and while the message isn't quite as universal, it's at least as bold).

Our heroin in Damned is a recently-deceased 13-year-old girl who wakes up in hell, where she gets a telemarketing job and recruits new people to hell because, other than the bad smells and general grossness, it's not all that bad. The people are fun and you can do pretty much anything you want. Her parents are a business mogul and a movie star who do lots of fake do-gooder stuff (like show up to awards shows in SmartCars and adopt orphans from third-world countries right before film releases and then tuck them away forever at boarding schools). We get the story of her life, and we get to watch how she turns hell into someplace beautiful.

At its heart, this novel is a humanitarian and religious farce. Palahniuk's continuing in the right direction after bouncing back with Tell-All; I thought Pygmy tried too hard and had a lackluster ending, and I thought Snuff was a complete throwaway. Palahniuk's next novel is reported to be Doomed, a sequel to Damned.

Nick Hornby, High Fidelity. True story: In 1995, my college roommate, Joe, and I could only play one song together on guitar: Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way." Our outlet during finals week was to play it over and over; so much so that through the open window, we heard our neighbors scream, "No more 'Baby I Love Your Way'!" That's important to the story, because it's that song that reels our protagonist, Rob, a middle-aged record shop owner with a tough relationship history, back into love of music and love of love.

Also, it gave me the opportunity to recount a nearly 20-year-old story of younger-Josh silliness.

The thing I remember most from the film version of "High Fidelity" is Jack Black dancing in the aisles to "Walkin' on Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. That scene happens in the book – Monday morning, that song, everything. And for as fun as I thought the movie was, the novel is so much better. We go through Rob's self-loathing and self-discovery, we go through his break-ups and many more pints of beer than the film lets on.

Definitely recommend.

Plato, Republic. Yeah, I know, between the Darwin and the Plato I didn't exactly do a month of light reading to open up 2013. I did get a major takeaway from Republic, but it's not what you think. Sure, there's the Allegory of the Cave, and Plato really lays out the design of how we think. But it's the way we get there that interests me. It's by way of conversation – Socrates speaking with Glaucon. We don't need to bury ourselves to have an epiphany. Sometimes, it's working it out in a group, or with someone else, that you really get the most important work done.

It reminds me that other than Wednesdays, when I play racquetball, work with a personal trainer and play in a tennis league, the only people I talk to are JB and the checkout people at the grocery store. I need to spend more time with people, expand my viewpoint.

What are you reading?