Saturday, October 31, 2009

Checked Out: October/November

Items I borrowed from the library this month
By Brian Polk

Letting Go Of God
By Julia Sweeny
(Audio CD)
“All these people were walking to church, holding their Bibles,” says Julie Sweeny in her masterpiece monologue, Letting Go Of God, “and I wanted to roll down the window and say, ‘Have you read that book? I mean, really?’” In her provocative one-woman show, the former Saturday Night Live actress (remember the androgynous Pat?) depicts her journey from curious Catholic to unassuming atheist—all of which began innocently enough when she decided she was actually going to read the Bible for the first time as an adult. What she discovered surprised and frightened her: Apparently one can justify hatred, war, slavery, sexism, or any number of humanity’s worst ills by citing passages in the Bible. Want to rape your father? Well, if Lot’s daughters are your role model, you might as well. Want to murder your progeny? That’s what God demanded of Abraham; who knows when he’ll come knocking for you. Is your mother giving you problems? Tell her to fuck off—since, according to Sweeny, that’s exactly what Jesus did: “And then there’s family,” she says. “I have to say that for me, the most deeply upsetting thing about Jesus is his family values—which is amazing when you think how there are so many groups out there that say they base their family values on the Bible…[Jesus] puts his mother off cruelly over and over again. At the wedding feast he says to her, ‘Woman, what have I to do with you?’ And once while he was speaking to a crowd, Mary waited patiently off to the side to talk to him. And Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Send her away. You are my family now.’” After being appalled by all of the book’s crazy laws and unethical behavior, Sweeny eventually drops the bombshell on the Bible’s very premise: “Why would a God create people so imperfect, then blame them for their own imperfections, then send his son to be tortured and executed by those imperfect people to make up for how imperfect people were and how imperfect they inevitably were going to be? I mean, what a crazy idea.” And so, since she couldn’t find God in the bible, Sweeny embarks upon a mission to find Him elsewhere. She travels to the East to find God in Buddhism. She travels to the Galapagos Islands to find God in nature. Eventually she has an epiphany while scrubbing her bathtub: Maybe God is nowhere. Of course, her blasphemous conclusion has very real consequences with her parents and community, which Sweeny describes with her character wit and humor. By far the most thoughtful, beautiful, varyingly dramatic and hilarious sentiment on the subject, Letting Go Of God is commonsense atheism that adapts none of the dogma or smug self-satisfaction that’s commonly associated with mainstream non-belief. It’s a denial of God with compassion and contemplation. And that’s damn good news.

Youth In Revolt: The Journals of Nick Twisp

By C.D. Payne
(Book)
The only thing that’s unique about Nick Twisp is his intelligence. That is, he uses polysyllabic words and breezes through his classes at his public high school. Everything else about Nick Twisp is pretty unremarkable: He’s an American teenager with a hard-on, a face full of acne, and an unrelenting obsession to raise hell and lose his virginity. He lives in Oakland, California, with his single, neurotic mother and a cavalcade of her replaceable boyfriends. His ultra-competitive, BMW-driving dad lives with his 19-year-old girlfriend across town. And along with his friend Lefty, Twisp seems to be in a perpetual state of boredom. And then fate intervened. When a business deal turns sour for Jerry, one of his mom’s boyfriends, Twisp accompanies his parent and her lover to a mobile home camp. There he meets a gorgeous young female intellectual named Sheeni. What follows is a string of events that are impossibly awkward, hilarious, and law defying. It’s a coming-of-age story that relies on all the tired contrivances of horny teenagers, but it completely redeems itself by refreshingly never losing focus of all of the inevitable clumsiness and embarrassing discomfort that comes with raging hormones. Although tortuous in length—the book is 499 pages—the soap-opera complexity and sheer ridiculousness of the plot coupled with the protagonist’s radical veraciousness completely consume its reader, forcing the increased fleetness of eager page-turning until the book’s unfulfilled conclusion. And apparently, the film version of this story stars Michael Cera and will be out some time in 2010. If they remain loyal to the novel, there’s a strong possibility that it could be palatable. Of course, that quite literally remains to be seen.

Jailbird
By Kurt Vonnegut
(Book)
Walter F. Starbuck is a man who wears a lot of hats: he’s been a communist, Harvard student, Nixon’s special advisor on youth affairs, vice-president of the RAMJAC corporation, and of course, jailbird. His memoir, Jailbird, recounts all the details of his storied life, from his service as a civilian employee of the Defense Department after World War Two to his role in the Watergate affair (which was minimal to say the least). Though this political fiction is not one of Vonnegut’s more famous works, it ranks among his best. Dense in plot and heavy on details, the prose ties actual historical events—the trial and execution of Sacco and Vanzetti and the Watergate scandal—into greater themes of communism and the labor movement in typical Vonnegut fashion. Like just about everything else he’s written, Jailbird is enlightening, heartening, and a great way to spend a string of quiet evenings.

Are You Experienced
By The Jimi Hendrix Experience
(CD)
This is an essentially unessential Hendrix album. (How many more times do you really need to hear “Purple Haze,” “Hey Joe,” or “Fire?”) Still, like every “classic rock” band, the non-hits are still worth a listen. “Third Stone From The Sun,” is a sprawling, jazz-fusion tune replete with effects and sections of spoken word. “Can You See Me”—the titular track of the group’s first album—and the blues cut “Red House” similarly never received much airplay and are subsequently worth lending an ear to. Are You Experienced is a CD that I would never consider buying—mainly because I have all this material on vinyl, but more specifically because you can hear most of the songs on FM radio. Thank goodness there are still places to get free music legally.

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