This installment: a ridiculous parody (nf); very dark humor from Mexico (f); a librarian tells almost all (nf); a refreshing and charming kids’ book on CD for everyone (CD); a strange, haunting book by a Turkish writer set in Berlin (CD); and an exquisite tragicomedy (DVD).
My Beautiful Despair by Kim Kierkegaardashian
Subtitled The Philosophy of Kim Kierkegaardashian. Who knew that the grim philosopher and the in-your-face fashionista would have so much in common! Here they are melded into a single being with quotes and line drawings that might make your head spin. As in (at random) “God grant me peace from my foolish desires, my wild longings, the anxious cravings of my heart. I’m craving fro-yo so badly.” If you crave something utterly ridiculous and extremely clever, give this little book a whirl.
The Mutations by Jorge Comensal
This book goes into a category I’ve dubbed “funny as a crutch,” and it tickled me with every grisly page. Ramon, a lawyer, loses his tongue (and his livelihood) to cancer. His housekeeper brings him a foul-mouthed parrot which becomes his alter-ego. A greedy brother acts badly, his teenage children act out, a psychiatrist, Teresa, comes into play (she’s had cancer too) and a pathologist hopes the rarity of Ramon’s cancer will make him famous. The Mexican author’s tongue in cheek (sorry—I couldn’t resist) slant on tragedy is brilliant.
Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
Subtitled Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks with an addendum: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life. Have you ever wanted to talk directly to the book or the author you’ve just encountered? That’s exactly what Spence does as she sorts through library weeds and her own bookshelf, telling the book (and us) why it meant so much to her or why it needs to be pitched. We get anecdotes and glimpses into her personal life along the way. She can be bawdy, even foul-mouthed, and uses such words as “gazbazillion.” Towards the end there are great book lists of all sorts. A caveat: I read it in short bursts at the desk and might have found it exhausting if I’d tried to plow straight through it in one sitting.
Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo
I was so happy to have Beverly ride along with me, with her skeptical Southern voice, her resistance and grief, and how joy manages to flower on stony ground. She’s 14 and has run away from home where her beloved dog died and her alcoholic mother seems permanently checked out. An unlikely miracle, geriatric Iola, takes her in. Iola needs someone to drive her around and could also use a friend. Beverly gets a job and another friend, Elmer, who has acne but is very smart and likes poetry. Yes it’s a kids’ book, but every sentence just rang true and it was also very funny.
Madonna in a Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali
This also arrived in CD form and I listened blind, as it were, not realizing until I read the author’s bio afterwards that it was written in 1943 and he, a political activist, was killed in ’48. A strange story of obsession, in which young Raif, sent from Turkey to Berlin to learn the soap-making business, falls in thrall to a portrait. And then with its subject, Maria, who painted it. She also plays the violin in a sleazy cabaret. Their courtship is very peculiar and prolonged. Ultimately when his father dies unexpectedly, Raif has to return to Turkey with hopes of reuniting that never come to fruition. The secret, as revealed in his journal, comes much too late, after his life has settled into quiet desperation. Intense and atmospheric.
The Farewell (DVD)
I first encountered this story on This American Life and it really grabbed me then. Now it’s a movie, made by the young Chinese-American woman who had to participate in a Big Lie. Her beloved grandma has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and everyone wants to see her but according to Chinese custom, they don’t want to tell her. “Cancer doesn’t kill, fear does,” says a relative. So they concoct a wedding and the protagonist, played by Awkwafina, struggles and sulks and wrestles with her Western conscience until she reluctantly comes around. To surprising good end (spoiler alert but still…). Beautiful cinematography, a magnificent score, lots of humor (yes!)—very special.
Back next week.