You've Read The Classics, Redux

by Kevin Kimura

The best part of writing a column is the aspect of community service. Sometimes, columnists give back to their communities by helping. Some columnists help people by drawing attention to societal trends. Some columnists help the environment by encouraging green choices. Some columnists help themselves to other people’s ideas .

But none of these columnists are lucky enough to write for a humor publication. Though the DP revels in its own unique brand of bathos, it seems to be trying to sell itself recently as some sort of journalistic enterprise. And though the Times publishes Doonesbury, which occasionally tickles my funny bone, their articles on the recent genocide in Darfur weren’t funny at all and the coverage of Olmert’s political problems have left me yawning. But we forgive these publications their trespasses against funniness because they help people. As a humor writer, I have a different set of goals, but they usually involve making fun of people more than helping them.

A couple weeks ago, though, I broke out of my unhelpful habits and clued you in on a few books that I thought people might be able to use brief primers on. Strangely enough, helping people felt very good to me. I’m usually not that sort of person, but I enjoyed helping my readers so much, I’m offering you a small expansion to your arsenal of literary knowledge. Just as in the last column, I’m offering you an important book, an explanation of its alleged importance, and some conversation-starters to show off to everyone that you’ve actually read the book:

The Book: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by D.H. Lawrence…no, I’m just fucking with you…Malcolm X wrote it. You know that really scary poster of a pointing man that Black guys put up in their dorm rooms? That’s DMX. He is Malcolm X’s grandson.
Why It’s Important to Look Like You’ve Read It: This book is street cred in a dust jacket. If you’ve read it, you win instant respect from African Americans and radical political activists. I know Penn doesn’t have many of either, but it just might come in handy when you go back home to Jersey.
Prepackaged Comment to Make if this Book Comes Up in Conversation: “The Black separatists can have the South if they want.” or “Wow…over five hundred pages and not a single Rick James joke…bitch.”

The Book: Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. There’s no Foucault in it and no pendulum, either. Oprah is demanding her money back.
Why It’s Important to Look Like You’ve Read It: Most people will assume that the title refers to Michel Foucault, and nothing turns pseudo-intellectuals on more than Michel Foucault. The reasons are obvious: he wore cool glasses, spoke French, and preached post-structuralism. Even though the book is essentially The Da Vinci Code featuring generous use of the Microsoft Word thesaurus, the title implies that you understand literary theory. An understanding of theory is vital to earning the respect of the self-proclaimed intelligentsia.
Prepackaged Comment to Make if this Book Comes Up in Conversation: “This book is essentially The Da Vinci Code featuring generous use of the Microsoft Word thesaurus!” or “Amongst my friends, ‘The Plan,’ usually involves cheap cologne, roofies, and insecure freshmen.”

The Book: Hearts Aflame by Johanna Lindsey. This is the first romance novel to feature Fabio “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter” Lanzoni featured on the cover. Enough said.
Why It’s Important to Look Like You’ve Read It: Well, it’s not, but it’s not a bad idea, nonetheless. If it ever seems that your literate high-mindedness keeps you from familiarity and insight into the vulgar culture of the unwashed proletariat, reassuring people that you read books from the full range of art, low to high, preempts any accusations of elitism.
Prepackaged Comment to Make if this Book Comes Up in Conversation: “That? Ugh…it’s obviously not mine. I think the landlady left it there…on my bedside table.” Or “It’s a collector’s item. It has Fabio’s signature. It’s going to be worth something someday.”

Happy faking it, illiterates! It’s practically summer, though. You really ought to read something intellectually stimulating. Harry Potter’s out soon. Get psyched.

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