Saturday, 2 January 2010

Some books to read.

So here are five randomly selected short reads that you should probably pick up if you're a fan of sarcastic wit, black humour and the odd profound statement. There is a general underlying theme of craziness also, which I did not intentionally stick to, it just happened. Maybe this means that mentally unstable people know more about making the world sound appealing in stories.

1. 'When I Was Five I Killed Myself' by Howard Buten.

Well what a strange little gem. Literally. Coming in at a measly 15.9 x 9.6 x 1.4cm, this paperback is about a third smaller than the size you would expect from a 'normal' book. But I'm quite certain that the reason everybody reads it is because of the distinctly obtuse title, and they are quite right to do so. This is 220 pages of dizzy, naive, charming 8-year-old perversity.

Excerpt: "This was a little girl's favorite toy," the man said. And tonight, because of a senseless accident, she is dead."
I ran up to my room.
I jumped on my bed.
I stuffed my face into my pillow and pushed it harder and harder until I couldn't hear anything anymore. I held my breath.
Then my dad came in and took my pillow away and put his hand on me and said my name. I was crying. He bent over and put his hands under me and lifted me up. He did this to the back of my hair and I put my head on him. He is very strong.
He whispered, "It's ok, Son, don't cry."
"I'm not," I said. "I'm a big boy."
But I was crying. Then Dad told me that every day somebody gets dead and nobody knows why. It's just the rules. Then he went downstairs.
I sat on my bed for a long time. I sat and sat. Something was wrong inside me, I felt it inside my stomach and I didn't know what to do. So I layed down on the floor. I stuck out my pointer finger and pointed it at my head. And I pushed down my thumb. And killed myself.

2. 'No-one Belongs Here More Than You' by Miranda July.

Miranda July is a writer, film-maker, musician, and who knows what else. She writes things down that you already know about, but her head makes the words come out in a perfect order. And so you come away from reading this short story collection as though your whole existence defines the meaning of the world, when really it's just July performing magical tricks with your linguistics. These little stories are all so different yet linked, quirky yet ordinary. July explores the characters' lives with such touching precision that it's hard not to smile.

Excerpt: "After we pulled out of the gas station, we drove to a restaurant that Kevin thought I might like. But I was still thinking about the boy with the squeegee and I systematically did the opposite of everything that Kevin wanted. I didn't order desert or wine, just a little salad, which I complained about. But he did not give up; he made jokes, ridiculous jokes in the car on the way back to my apartment. I steeled myself against laughter; I would rather die than laugh. I didn't laugh, I did not laugh. But I died; I did die."(from 'Man On The Stairs')

"If you are sad, ask yourself why you are sad. Then pick up the phone and call someone and tell him or her the answer to the question, Why are you sad? If you don't know anyone, call the operator and tell him or her. Most people don't know that the operator has to listen, it is a law. Also, the postman is not allowed to go inside your house, but you can talk to him on public property for up to four minutes or until he wants to go, whichever comes first." (from 'The Shared Patio')

3. 'Naïve Super' by Erlend Loe.

Another smaller-than-average piece of treasure with not very many pages (208 to be precise), Erlend Loe doesn't really document anything and yet he tells you everything. The less-is-more attitude to revealing life's perplexing concepts results in the inclusion of children's toys, plenty of lists and seemingly pointless activity. Often philosophical in its stylistic bluntness, 'Naïve Super' narrates the disorientated circumstances of a 25-year-old who is in some sort of pre-midlife crisis.

Excerpt: We were talking. I was completely incoherent. Neither of us could understand much of what I was saying. But my brother took me seriously. I'll give him that. I could see he was getting worried. He hadn't seen me like this before.
He said there are probably thousands of people who hit the wall every day. Most of them probably have a hard time of it for a while, but then it gets better. My brother is an optmist. He wanted to help.
I sat there thinking this had to be the pits. I was afraid that I had become fed up with life, that I would never ever feel enthusiasm again.
It wasn't anything to do with croquet. I was certain about that.
Croquet is a small thing and this was a big thing.
Quite soon it began to dawn on me that this had a direct connection with the fact that I had become 25 and wasn't handling it very well.

4. 'Possible Side Effects' by Augusten Burroughs.

Augusten Burroughs is just so God damn funny in his own dry way. His completely nonchalant style of addressing his often shocking and disturbing encounters have gained him huge literary popularity. Burroughs has this way of making hilarity of any situation, like if he saw a car crash he would note it down in his journal by saying something along the lines of: "a car crash happened". No room for flaws. When I think of Burroughs I think of contradictory terms like 'painfully funny', and 'alarmingly ordinary'. The scary thing is that these are short memoirs, not short stories, so it's not entirely fictional.

Excerpt: She pulled out her wallet, showing me. “See? See, baby? I think the Tooth Fairy must have put your money in here. By mistake.” Then she pulled out a fifty. “See! Look at this!” she cried, lifting the crisp bill out of her wallet and placing it in my hand. “This was meant for you, sugar. For you! The Tooth Fairy, she made a little error. It can happen to anyone, even a fairy. She made a little mistake and she put your money into my wallet. Imagine that!” I took the money and looked at it. It looked just like regular money except something was different. “It’s a fifty, sweetie. Do you know what that means?” I did know what that meant. I knew exactly what that meant. I got an allowance and that was a one. This was the same size as the one, but you could buy fifty times more things with it. “Are you sure I’m supposed to have this?” “I am absolutely sure,” she said. “The Tooth Fairy just had the wrong tooth. And I think I know what confused her so much,” my grandmother said. Then she reached into her mouth and pulled out all of her teeth, all at once, even her gums. And I couldn’t breathe. She smiled and gummed the words, “I lothed my eeth, ooo!” (from Pest Control)

5. 'The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God & Other Stories' by Etgar Keret.

The front cover says 'warped and wonderful short stories', which seems like a pretty accurate description to me. Israeli writer Etgar Keret uses each story to depict a surreal photograph of an unbelievable scenario. And yet somehow, halfway through reading, you realise that you've forgotten his unrealistic choice of plot and fallen into the photograph yourself. Prepare to be stung, moved, wisened, heartbroken, and maybe taken on several three-page trips to the afterlife...

Excerpt: Two days after I killed myself I found a job here at some pizza joint. It's called Kamikaze, and it's part of a chain...Whenever they used to sound off about life after death and go through the whole is-there-isn't-there routine, I never thought about it one way or the other. But I'll tell you this much: even when I thought there was, I'd always imagine these beeping sounds, like a fuzz-buster, and people floating around in space and stuff. But now that I'm here, I don't know, mostly it reminds me of Tel Aviv. My roommate, the German, says this place could just as well be Frankfurt. I guess Frankfurt's a dump, too. (from Pizzeria Kamikaze)

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