Monday, February 14, 2011

Best Books for Valentine's Day

I love Valentine's Day. I really do. It's some sort of weird disorder, or maybe just a testament to the successful rhetoric of greeting card companies. But in any case, it's nice to think that once a year you can either do something self-consciously hokey (or, you know, break out the ol' love swing) with your significant other, or cry yourself to sleep watching Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and listening to Coldplay.

Regardless of the state of your heart this February 14, here are some books to read to make sure that your brain is working:

Got a little someone special in your life? Try Lolita. It's not exactly the most un-horrifying experience in the history of modern literature, but it sure makes you feel normal by comparison.

Nobokov's unbelievably sinister portrayal of Humbert Humbert takes us through the psychology of a pedophile and leaves us wondering, well, how he thought up all of this stuff. The salacious content of the novel is one thing...and there are arguments on both sides about whether it is pornographic. I come down on the side that says: this is a novel that pushes the limits of narrator-reliability. Its unrelenting portrayal of psychosis is absolutely unique.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Super Bowl Car Commercials II: Vader Kid

It has been declared, almost unanimously it seems, the best commercial of the Super Bowl. And it's for a Volkswagen Passat, a decidedly un-luxurious vehicle. What does this spot tell us about the persistence of traditional narratives of middle class desire? And moreover, why should we care? Why do I want to suck the joy out of this adorable commercial by overanalyzing it to death?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Super Bowl Commercials I: Is it Okay to Start Buying Stuff Again?

Can the privileged class start enjoying its privileges again already? Here's the first in a three-part series on the Super Bowl's auto commercials (including perhaps THE only two popular ads this year). They tell a divided story.

Audi: Release the Hounds (Or, Meet the New Boss: Same as the Old Boss)

Two bathrobed prisoners in a jail for the wealthy break out, to a soundtrack of their delighted fellow inmates' cheers, and Kenny G. The warden orders "Release the hounds," and as the prisoners reach the gate, they have a choice: climb into a white Mercedes, or a flashy Audi A8. The older of the pair hops into the Benz--"My father had one of these," he says, and is driven immediately back to the jail. The younger accelerates to freedom in the Audi, passing under the George Washington Bridge as a voice-over implores us: "Escape the confines of old luxury." The tagline reads: "Luxury has progressed."

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dispatches from DC: The Problematic Ambitions of "Donald"

I like McSweeney's when it's funny. And though I have gone back and forth on Dave Eggers, I have been strongly in the "pro" camp (at least when it comes to his work) since Zeitoun, a powerful piece of writing about Katrina that may very well go down as one of the best books about that disaster.

But last night's reading of the McSweeney's-backed Donald at 826 DC was not funny. The evening presented a confusing and often painful caricature of what Eggers’s enterprise morphs into when it boosts authors who "do" politics. The concept and execution of Donald come off as shrill, opportunistic, and incurious. All the while, its authors trumpeted the incoherent idea of "serious fiction"--a term that McSweeney's did not invent, but one that it seems all too ready to mobilize as its reason for existence. Donald, written by Eric Martin and Stephen Elliott, attempts to turn the tables on Donald Rumsfeld. Set to hit shelves on the same day as Rummy's memoir, the book is described as an "allegory," in which a Rumsfeld-inspired character is kidnapped, rendered, and tortured at the hands of an unnamed regime. Simply: Donald is the wrong book at the wrong time with the wrong message, and it took me less than an hour to decide that McSweeney’s owes its fan much more than this.