18
Dec
09

Three quickie book reviews

Michael Chabon – The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

This was a really cool book. It’s kind of a combination of Mordecai Richler and Raymond Chandler, a hard-boiled detective story set in a Jewish settlement in Alaska in it’s end times, before it reverts back to the US and it’s population is kicked out. Meyer Landsman, a dectective imploding into his own vices tackles a murder that takes him deep into conspiracies, a sect of orthodox Jews looking for a messiah and dwarf police chief who rides a 2/3rd scale motorcycle.

While Chabon could have easily let this book  become a parody of pulp lit – Bukowski fell into this trap – his work doesn’t even feel like a tribute, just something that is what it is. It’s wisecracking, stuffed with memorable characters – Berko, the Jewish Native is a standout – and clever wordplay and is compulsively readable.

Hip: The History – John Leland

Leland’s book doubles as both a narrative history of what is hip in America and as a look at how race, language and culture have intermingled to become known as hip over the past century. Hip, argues Leland, runs almost right through from novelists like Herman Melville to performers like Notorious BIG, with stops along the way in Beat and Jazz culture. Leland’s account is detailed, although he tends to move around from topic to topic, and at times almost feels like a textbook.

Still, he does a great job cataloging just how language and ideas are redefined and pushed to extremes, letting the mainstream come to them before they push out again into uncharted waters. For one interested in how and why the culture of America is pop culture, Leland’s book is a must.

Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung – Lester Bangs

A sampling of Bang’s work as a rock critic, the bulk of it in the 70s for Creem, this collection is decent, if a little uneven. As a critic, Bangs wasn’t afraid to call a band or an album bullshit, which is an admirable enough trait. And he wasn’t afraid to rave about what he did like, either: this book has fantastic reviews of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and Van Morison’s Astral Weeks.

Bangs was also a pretty good feature writer too: his pieces on travelling with The Clash, on racism in the punk rock community and his infamous interview with Lou Reed are worth the price of admission. And while some of his pieces drag, usually when he writes the kind of self-aggrandizing bullshit that Hunter Thompson used to specialize in, overall it’s an interesting collection.

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