Book Reviews – February 2009

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Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life
Brian Raftery
Da Capo Press
Street: 01.01
I love Karaoke. I love it so much that I have sung, among other things, M. Manson’s “The Beautiful People” while aged strippers shook their thing a few feet away (aka Stripperoake) and braved a lethargic version of Radiohead’s “Optimistic” just because I wanted to show off my Thom Yorke dance. A connoisseur, yes, but my participation and devotion to the art are nothing compared to Brian Raftery’s, a former GQ and Spin journalist who spent years perfecting his craft. An equal mix of history (interviews with inventors, track production houses and members of live karaoke bands), the author’s White Whale chases (i.e. Fugazi’s “Waiting Room,” “Thirty Songs I’ll Never Find at Karaoke”), karaoke cruise ships and underlying sadness over age versus the desire to get upand get your friends upto rock, Raftery’s text does the culture justice like no other. -Dave Madden

Girl on the Fridge
Etgar Keret
Farrus, Straus, and Giroux
Street: 2008
Amid the bitching of overanxious Internet-Age literati decrying humanity as a race of illiterates with goldfish attention spans, Israel’s Etgar Keret has found a solution - make short stories even shorter and 10 times as potent - like mixing a Long Island iced tea on paper. Flash fiction is steadily gaining prominence in contemporary literature, but Keret has the economy, the twisted imagination and the unbridled empathy to make stories like “Asthma Attack,” “Sidewalks” and “Freeze!” as memorably jarring as anything his long-winded predecessors may have accomplished. It is as if McCarthy and Kafka formed a vaudeville duo that performs in a Dreamland ghetto and forbids punchlines. Funny, violent and heartbreaking as well as fast, Girl on the Fridge is the best response yet to those moans and groans and perfect for the reader with only five or 10 minutes. -J.R. Boyce

Jetpack Dreams: One Man’s Up and Down (but Mostly Down) Search for the Greatest Invention That Never Was
Mac Montandon
Da Capo Press
“Where the hell is my jetpack?” That is what Mac Montandon asks as he explores how we could live in this booming technological age of computers in our pockets, space travel, and escalators and not have our very own personal jetpacks? Montandon discusses the cultural phenomenon of the jetpack in science fiction and reality by looking at the origin of the jetpack concept in comic books and movies and how that evolved into the obsession of several garage tinkerings. Perfecting jetpack technology has been left to the brave weekend warriors unafraid of the slight risk of exploding or plummeting to their death. Montandon tackles the subject with a very appropriate sense of humor. This book is an inspiration. Where the hell is my jetpack? -Ben Trentelman

Legally Stoned
Todd A. Thies, Ph.D
Kensington Books
Street: 01.01
This is a stoner’s dream come true. Obtaining substances that are somewhat legal to possess without the fear of the dirty, dirty police seems like the right direction toward nirvana. Thies is a forensic psychologist and has no doubt had his fair share of blazed days and colorful nights. The book explains how to obtain, use and some risks for things like toad venom, nutmeg and cactus. Is it too good to be true? Are there drugs surrounding me that I don’t know about? Although many of the substances are legal to obtain, some do not sound like they would be that beneficial to the pursuit of enlightenment. For example, the “other” mushroom, Amanita muscaria, causes nausea and vomiting in most of its consumers and is highly toxic. Another example is the sage related Salvia divinorum which causes a completely dissociative experience for many who partake. The overriding theme that I took away from this book is that all drugs have risks, physical or social, and should be used with care. It is possible that if we did everything with care, we might find that nirvana that we crave. -Andrew Glassett