1. Tales From A Broad: An Unreliable Memoir by Fran Lebowitz
Compared to Metropolitan Life, Fran Lebowitz’s Tales From a Broad is lesser known. Where Metropolitan Life is an accumulation of her essays, Tales is a cohesive narrative. It recounts (at times unreliably) her and her family’s yearlong stay in Singapore. They moved there because her husband Frank found a job there, and it’s the most sardonic, hilarious take of New York transplants in Asia. Among the highlights are Fran’s shameless efforts to make friends by the pool; the way she deals with her kids—ever-lovingly, but with a distinct hint of disgust; her word choice; her disarming penchant for alcohol and cigarettes; and her unshakable love for Frank.
Now it is Monday. And I am Frank-less. And I am in Singapore. By 10 am I have the kids bathed and fed and in their respective containers. Huxley is velcroed in his bounce seat with a bottle and Sadie is in a high chair. She’s a little old to be in one, but she likes it…I tell myself. A large component of my particular type of parenting has been finding a harness for all occasions…
I see some people arrive and set up at the poo. There’s an abundance of beautiful, shapely blonde women and about 12 gorgeous towelheaded kids…I gather up our mountain of pool toys, shave my legs, get into my most expensive bathing suit and even put on lipstick. I have a sudden inspiration to put my very expensive sunglasses on my head (I cant see out of them – too dark – but they look real good up on my head). And…oh, wait! Some pool shoes, the heels I got in Italy for $400. Shit, what to wear as a cover-up? I pull out the dress my mother-in-law bought me in Florida. Yessss, I’m in, baby! I got the part! I’m the new to the part where I tell them my husband is lawyer in the music industry and I’m a literary agent. ‘Oh, of course you don’t know what an agent is…I forget…it’s really a New York – London thing.’ They’ll love me.
There are streaks of brown sludge all over the white marble floor. It stinks in there. Huxley’s feet are encased in the same shit. And, shit it is. Sadie, who I had taken out of the high chair, had been running around bottomless because we’re in toilet training. Apparently, we’re not there yet. She’s taken a dump on the floor. Huxley is joyfully riding his walker back and forth, ziggin and zagging all over the place. We have miles of poo trails leading us through the living room
I fill the bathtub with water and plop the kids in. while they play, I scrub the floor and soil my cover-up from Florida. There’s a nasty spray of crap on my left heel and my fingernails cant help but harbor a little line way down deep that will diligently send up a subtle, foul reminder of where my hands have been. I get a chopstick and try to clean it out but the chopstick’s too fat. I get a knife and start bleeding. I try soaking and scrubbing, but still the doody wont come out. Fuck it. The kids are prunes now.
2. The Rachel Papers by Martin Amis
Martin Amis captures the astoundingly self-obsessed mind and ego of an 18-year-old boy in The Rachel Papers. The account is as honest as it is crass and disturbing. Highlights:
With comb and fingertips I styled my pubic hairs. It was a good idea to spruce myself up for Rachel, the reason being that one honestly did never know. One night last July: at 10.4 in Belsize Park tube station, a girl was telling me to go away before she called the police; at 10.17 I was lying on the floor—between untouched cups of still quite hot tea—helping her off with her greasy panties. Admittedly the girl was quite hideous, had smelled unclothed of open wounds and graveyards, etc., but you still never knew. It was a theory of Geoffrey’s that pretty girls liked sex more than rough ones…
As we left the café and idled over the road to the bus-stop I felt a listless bewilderment come over me. Rachel’s character was about as high-powered as her syntax. Where had I got the idea she was clever? Geoffrey? No. Geoffrey’s sister? No. Me? Yes. What sort of a mumbo-jumbo world, I asked myself, do you think you’re living in, bub?
3. Tommy’s Tale by Alan Cumming
Tommy’s Tale is a novel about a bisexual London club kid named Tommy, whose British cynicism and sarcasm would fit quite seamlessly in a lower east side loft space. It also includes a lot of gay sex. Written by actor Alan Cumming, Tommy’s Tale traverses Tommy’s inner conflicts—emotional, sexual, and otherwise. It’s a story of a man without a childhood; a reckless, self-indulgent lad, whose self-destruction is at once hideous and intoxicating. By page 6, he’s rolling on ecstasy, and by page 9 he has pronounced his disgust for “lovemaking”. “What, if anything, do we actually make when we are engaged in this activity?” Tommy asks. “I’ll tell you…moany noises, messes on the sheets, stains on our pants. That’s what. So fuck off, you love makers.”
But, perhaps most worthy of all is this novel’s seductive powers. When it comes to porn, I’d choose some beautifully detailed prose over a cum shot to the face any day. And Tommy’s Tale is a case in point. I won’t give anything away, but if you’re feeling lonely on a Friday night, you might want to skip to chapter 6, “The Disabled Loo.”
4. Bossypants by Tina Fey
Tina Fey kills me, and she masters the art of self-loathing in a way no woman has ever done before. She draws attention to her hairiness, her unibrow, and details horrific tales from her teen years. But she’s not all self-deprecation. When it comes to her profession, she knows she’s the best.
It may have been a mistake to have my first-ever gynecology appointment in a Planned Parenthood on the north side of Chicago. I was twenty-three and honestly, there was no need. My whole setup was still factory-new. But I had never been and I had some insurance, so why not be proactive about my health like the educated young feminist I was? I slipped on my pumpkin-colored swing coat with the Sojourner Truth button on it and headed to their grim location in Rogers Park. All the windows were covered, and you had to be buzzed in through two different doors. This place was not kidding around I sat among the AIDS posters, proudly reading Toni Morrison’s Jazz. Maybe later I would treat myself to sweet potato fries at the Heartland Café!
I was taken to an examining room where a big butch nurse practitioner came in and asked me if I was pregnant. “No way!” Was I sexually active? “Nope!” Had I ever been molested? “Well,” I said, trying to make a joke, “Oprah says the only answers to that question are ‘Yes’ and ‘I don’t remember.'” I laughed. We were having fun. The nurse looked at me, concerned/annoyed. “Have you ever been molested?” “Oh. No.” Then she took out a speculum the size of a milk shake machine. Even Michelle Duggar would have flinched at this thing, but I had never seen one before. “What’s that device f—?” Before I could finish, the nurse inserted the milk shake machine to the hilt, and I fainted. I was awakened by a sharp smell. An assistant had been called in, I’m sure for legal reasons, and was waving smelling salts under my nose. As I “came to,” the nurse said, “You have a short vagina. I think I hit you in the cervix.” And then I fainted again even though no one was even touching me.
5. Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
Everything Is Illuminated is one of those books that inhabits such a singular world and narrative, that you can’t help but get sucked in. It vacillates between various narrators, as well as between correspondence vis letters and an antiquated tale of a Jewish town. The humor is in Foer’s accurate depiction of Jewish family traditions, his attempt at dialogue of a man who speaks poor English, and the unabashed—if often harsh—temperament of the Jews depicted in the book.
Now is a befitting time to mention Grandfather, who is also fat, but yet more fat than my parents. OK, I will mention him. He has gold teeth and cultivates ample hairs on his face to comb by the dusk of every day. He toiled for fifty years at many employments, primarily farming, and later machine manipulating. His final employment was at Heritage Touring, where he commenced to toil in the 1950s and persevered until of late. But now he is retarded and lives on our street. My grandmother died two years yore of a cancer in her brain, and Grandfather became very melancholy, and also, he says, blind. Father does not believe him, but purchased Sammy Davis Junior, Junior for him nonetheless, because a Seeing Eye bitch is not only for blind people but for people who pine for the negative of loneliness. (I should not have used “purchased,” because in truth Father did not purchase Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior, but only received her from the home for forgetful dogs. Because of this, she is not a real Seeing Eye bitch, and is also mentally deranged.)
6. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
David Sedaris’s humor is timeless. He was perhaps the first writer to master the art of self-loathing (which Tina Fey then went on to reclaim as her own). He’s also unabashedly gay, and during a time when this wasn’t an easy label to publicly bear.
High school taught me a valuable lesson about glasses: Don’t wear them. Contacts have always seemed like too much work, so instead I just squint, figuring that if something is more than ten feet away, I’ll just deal with it when I get there.
7. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
Really, anything and everything by Gary Shteyngart is hilarious. And the difference between him and Tina Fey or David Sedaris, is that he is truly so very uncool. Where Fey is actually quite pretty and Sedaris has sartorial standards, Shteyngart is literally a self-proclaimed walking troll with an unhealthy attachment to his dachshund.
I went to get some beers, passing the girls on the way, but they were too busy looking at rankings. The bar was filling up with Senior Credit guys in tapered chinos and oxfords. I felt superior to them, but my MALE HOTNESS was swiftly falling to last place out of thirty-seven, thirty-eight, thirty-nine, forty males. Walking past Annie, I clicked on her Child Abuse Multimedia, letting the sound of her screaming vibrate my eardrums as a pixelated disembodied hand hovered above an Image of her naked body and the screaming segued into what sounded like a hundred monks chanting the mantra “He touched me here, he touched me here, he touched me here, he touched me here.”
8. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
This is the type of book where an excerpt would serve much better than any attempt to explain or detail it.
Just take a look:
And whowasit youwasit propped the pot in the yard and whatinthe nameofsen lukeareyou rubbinthe sideofthe flureofthe lobbywith Shite! will you have a plateful? Tak.
9. The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
Jess Walter paints an eerily accurate picture of the life we millennials live post-9/11 and the financial crisis. Marijuana plays a big part in this book.
“Nice slippers, yo,” says the cell-phone banger when I come outside with my milk. He’s twenty or so, in a sagging shark-colored tracksuit, black hair combed straight over his ears, elaborate tattoo rising out of his shirt at the base of his neck. And right out in the open, in front of this convenience store, he conveniently offers me a hit on a glass blunt, a little marijuana pipe shaped like a cigarette. I wave it off, but sort of wish I hadn’t—it’s been at least fifteen years, but I didn’t just spring from some relaxed-waisted suburbia with a Stoli martini in hand; I had my moments. In college they used to call me Weedeater because I devoured those Acapulco Gold joints, incense burning, black light on the walls, Pink Floyd thrumming down the dorm floor—.
10. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace
Brilliance can be a curse, and David Foster Wallace was a case in point. He over-thought to an extent no human has gone before. He was perennially wary of, most of all, the industry in which he worked. He is supremely modest—almost to the point of detriment. And yet, supremely confident as well. In A Supposedly Fun Thing, he really flexes his observation skills, discussing seemingly trivial matters with such sagacity and aplomb. An excerpt:
I have seen sucrose beaches and water a very bright blue. I have seen an all-red leisure suit with flared lapels. I have smelled what suntan lotion smells like spread over 21000 pounds of hot flesh. I have been addressed as “Mon” in three different nations. I have watched 500 upscale Americans dance the Electric Slide. I have seen sunsets that looked computer-enhanced and a tropical moon that looked more like a sort of obscenely large and dangling lemon than like the good old stony U.S. moon I’m used to.
I have (very briefly) joined a Conga Line.
He goes on to expound on what he has learned…”I now know the precise mixological difference between a Slippery Nipple and a Fuzzy Navel. I know what a Coco Loco is. I have in one week been the object of over 1500 professional smiles. I have burned and peeled twice. I have shot skeet at sea. Is this enough? At the time it didn’t seem like enough. I have felt the full clothy weight of a subtropical sky. I have jumped a dozen times at the shattering, flatulence-of-the-gods sound of a cruise ship’s horn. I have absorbed the basic of mah-jonhh, seen part of a two-day rubber of contract bridge, learned how to secure a life jacket over a tuxedo, and lost at chess to a nine-year-old girl…I have no heard—and am powerless to describe—reggae elevator music. I have learned what it is to become afraid of one’s own toilet. I have acquired “sea legs” and would like now to lose them. I have tasted caviar and concurred with the little kid sitting next to me that it is: blucky.