Friday, October 31, 2008

Number 25 is America Unchained by funny-man Brit, Dave Gorman. You may remember Dave as Danny Wallace's partner in crime in Are You Dave Gorman?. The two may not be doing any more 'stupid boy projects' together, but they certaintly have branched out to do more 'stupid boy projects' apart. I guess that means they're maximizing their 'stupid boy projects'.

Dave's latest grew from a month long comedy tour of the United States. He tried to enjoy it, but he wound up hating it. He hated the sameness, the homoginzation, the... corporateness of America. And he felt bad about hating America. He'd had a completely different idea of the country and when it didn't come true, he was upset and angry about it. So, he came upon the idea of seeing America the way he thought it should be seen; from coast to coast in an American made car as old as he was (so around 35 years old), and not giving any money to 'the Man'. And the Man in the case was anything that could be considered a chain. That meant Dave had to stay in independently run hotel, eat at independently owned restaurants, and fill up at independently owned gas stations. It would be this last that would prove the greatest challenge.

Dave begins his jaunt in Coronado, California (an island just off of San Diego, which I've been to and which is beautiful), where he buys a 1972 Ford Torino station wagon. He loves the car, but she will, of course, prove to be a fickle travelling companion.

We follow Dave on the road, from side trips all the way up to Oregon, to hilarity and maddness in Utah, to losing his first camera person (because he is making a documentary based on his cross-country run) due to excruciating back problems (and boy could I sympathize there), to the friendliness of Kansas, the meanness of Mississippi, all the way to Georgia where they reach the Atlantic coast and call their journey done.

It's an inspiring tale, one that truly shows you America in all her forms; good, bad, ugly, beautiful, but also allows you to see her as she was before all became corporate and chains and nothing but big box stores. It makes one want to set out on a road trip immediately.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Number 24 this year is Friends Like These by Danny Wallace. It was my husband who first introduced me to Danny Wallace (and his sometimes partner in crime, Dave Gorman) and their 'stupid boy projects', and I've enjoyed all Wallace's capers since then. Some more than others of course, and Friends Like These is enjoyable.

On the cusp of turning 30, recently married and burgeoning yuppie Danny has an about-to-turn-thirty crisis sparked by being asked to be a godparent to the child of some friends. This request galvanizes for him that he doesn't really want to fully grow up, to trade fun for throw cushions, to stop going to the pub, etc. He likes the IDEA of becoming a man, but not the actual participation in it completely.

With the arrival of a box of his old belongings from his Mum, Danny finds his old address book, from his childhood. It has 12 names it, people whom he's long since lost contact with and has only a few times in the past 16 years or so, wondered how these people are doing. Well, when Danny's closest current mates, Ian and Wag both announce that they are going away/moving away, Danny is spurred to track down all those people from his past. Danny also has the blessing of his wife, Lizzie, to do all this and finish it before his 30th birthday, a few months away.

Some are easier to find than others, and so he immediately gets together with them and finds it very rewarding. He also begins writing answers to letters he recieved from one friend 16 years ago, hoping that they will find their way to the sender. Danny ends up going to Los Angeles to meet one friend, and finish playing an elaborate prank upon him (which involves Danny masquerading as a furrie) in retaliation for a prank Danny was the butt of fifteen years ago. Danny also journeys to Australia and Japan in search of friends. All this travelling always makes me wonder how well Danny does off of the writing of his 'stupid boy projects'. And then I realize he's probably making a decent living off his stupid boy projects, and well, that's pretty damn awesome.

As usual, this is a funny, funny book, which also does make you think. In the era of Facebook, it's easy to find old friends online, but never really have to go farther than that. Danny takes it that step further and reconnects in person, and finds it much more rewarding. It's an interesting idea, but one I doubt I'd launch into.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Not as big a break between the last book and number 23 fortunately. Number 23 of the year is Just Fine the Way it Is: Wyoming Stories 3 by Annie Proulx. As you may surmize from Proulx's rather frequent presence on this list, I'm a fan of hers. I love her blunt, descriptive narrative, especially in her short stories.

Proulx can make Wyoming sound beautiful, but I also don't think she ever romanticizes it; Wyoming's beauty is double-edged, it can take your breath away permanently if you let it.

Most of these stories are quite nearly downright depressing. Most end with unhappiness and anger and death. No matter what some do to appreciate/impose themselves on the landscape of Wyoming, they end up dead for their troubles.

There were a couple of departures here, mainly a couple of short stories about the Devil and his remodelling of Hell. They're quite humourous, especially when Proulx makes mention that she thinks Revenue Canada is FAR scarier than the IRS. She would know, she splits her time between Wyoming and Newfoundland.

Overall, I enjoyed these stories again, and a couple of them really kicked me in the gut, the way Brokeback Mountain did. Which is both a good thing, and a bad thing. Much like Wyoming itself I guess.