Monday, March 21, 2011

Finishing "Poplorica." Sort of.

This may be the first time I have ever accidentally finished a book. I was sitting there last night, Poplorica in hand, reading a really interesting chapter about product placement in movies. It might have been my favorite chapter in the book. The next chapter was about the invention of a certain golf club driver. I don't know if the chapter was as boring as it sounded, because I decided to skip it. The golf club chapter starts on page 225 of 284, so I thought I still had another chapter to read. Turns out those last 60 some pages are all chapter notes and index. I thought about going back to read the golf club chapter just so I could say I read the whole book, but the overwhelming boringness of golf persuaded me to just call it a day.

The boringness of golf leads me to the point I want to make about this book: your enjoyment of it is directly related to your interest level in the subject matter. As a Mad Men fan, I enjoyed the chapters about the birth of product-placement and market research. Reading how these now commonplace marketing strategies were started was really interesting. Also extremely interesting were the chapters about Night of the Living Dead, graphical user interfaces, and tabloids. Even the chapter about the slam dunk and how it shaped the NBA carried a certain amount of nostalgia. As a kid growing up in Chicagoland in the '90s when The Bulls were Gods, everyone liked basketball. That chapter brought back memories of watching games with my dad, watching Michael Jordan soar to the basket.

Other chapters were less interesting. Seriously, who cares about golf? (Yes, I know. Abby's husband golfs. He would probably like that chapter.) After reading Bonk, the chapter on Kinsey seemed really light. And I get where they were going with the chapter on pantyhose, but I think a chapter about bras would have been more interesting. How did we go from longline bras and girdles to modern bras? From custom-fit to ABCs? I also think discussing the invention of the birth control pill would have been fantastic. As it is the chapters that talk about women's liberation are the ones about frozen dinners, pantyhose, and disposable diapers. I know I'm biased, but I would have loved more chapters about women and society.

Overall it was a good book. It was easy to read and well researched. Definitely worth the $1 I paid for it.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Graduate - Charles Webb

I picked up this classic several months ago at an antique store. I think I paid $2 for the 1963 hardcover edition. It has an inscription To Susie ~ xmas 1969 ~ From Katie Yeatts. I love inscriptions. Note to self, write shit on the first page of all those books you give as gifts.

So! It's a classic, I think everyone is familiar with the plot either from the book, the film or the Simon & Garfunkel song. No need to dwell on it.

Charles Webb's style is distinctive, very minimalist. Not Hemingway-sparse, but the language isn't flowery and he doesn't waste pages on the touchy-feely bits. In fact the story is told from a 3rd-person objective point of view and the narration only follows our dubious protagonist Benjamin Braddock. The effect, for me at least, lent to the idea that young Ben has no idea what the hell he's doing with his life. He's never able to properly explain himself to anyone and he acts with seeming disregard for, or possibly unawareness of, his relationship to his world.

The cover advertises hilarity, which I think is an overstatement as most of the humor is quite understated. Actually some of it felt really stale, but I imagine it's because it's been frequently copied. Not to spoil the story, but somebody's gonna break up a wedding. It is funny though, and easily worth the short 191 pages that it sets you back. One of my favorite funny things is the fact that months into their affair Braddock is still addressing to his lover as Mrs. Robinson. Hee.

The theme though is a bit dark in a quaint "what does it all mean" way, which I'm inclined to appreciate. The characters all seem weighed down by their upper middle class lifestyles and intellectual boredom, but that stiffness in no way drags on the story. I also like Webb's resistance to judging his characters for their actions. Though he certainly suffers the inevitable consequences of his decisions, Braddock is never written off as a villain or a boy in need of saving. He just is who he is.

On a slightly different note, I'm finding that a lot of "modern literature" is starting to feel really dated to me. Benji Braddock watches TV until the stations stop broadcasting. Anything that happened before the invention of infomercials seems like it would have little bearing on my life.