Central Booking — The Sicka Than Average Book Section
Like most writers, I often bemoan the saddening frequency with which I hear people declare that they don’t read books — particularly given that, in many instances, these statements are accompanied with something akin to pride, as if we were living in some warped, reading-is-for-tools high school universe. And then, of course, there are those who boast about the amount of literature they take in and yet, when asked about their reading habits, they cite trashy memoirs by dimwitted celebrity TV stars, tell-all books by hip-hop groupies, simplistic “personal empowerment” books (i.e. The Secret), and unimaginative street lit. Sure, part of me is thankful that these folks are reading at all, but I do wonder if their literary exploits could be steered toward more intellectually fulfilling fare. In other words, I wonder where we’d be as a society if all of us in the media focused on exalting books that challenge our way of thought rather than trumpeting flimsy trash that allegedly appeals to the lowest common denominator
And instead of talking about, I’ve decided to be about it. Today, I’m launching a new book section on Sicka Than Average called “Central Booking,” where I’ll discuss novels, memoirs, nonfiction titles, biographies, short story collections, humor titles, fashion tomes, photography books, cookbooks, art volumes, and more.
The Unit, $10.17. Available at Amazon.com
Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist stages a powerful debut as a novelist with The Unit, an eerie account of a dystopia where certain human lives are considered dispensable. But what makes the premise so unsettling is that it’s not unfathomable — after all, we already live in a culture where, whether vocalized or not, a stratified value system based on such random and subjective criteria as wealth, social standing, educational level, age, and geographic location.
The book opens with the central character, Dorrit Weger, celebrating her 50th birthday in the most unusual of ways — by checking herself into the Second Reserve Unit for Biological Material. In Weger’s time, childless women over the age of fifty and childless men over the age of sixty are mandated by law to check into this unit, where they are subjected to both psychological and physiological experiments, used as guinea pigs for new pharmaceutical drugs and treatments, and coaxed to donate their organs, one at a time, until it’s time for their “final donation” ( a donation that will lead to death). Being childless is, then, equated with being dispensable— according to the dominant line of thinking in Weger’s society, people without children have no one who depends on them and no one to take on their care when they approach old age, and so they therefore represent an economic strain on the rest of society. Because they’re seen as dispensable, then, they’re hoarded into the Unit and encouraged to donate viable organs to women and men “on the outside,” children and parents whose lives are considered more valuable.
But rather than depict the Unit as an overtly and unabashedly gruesome, dingy, unhygienic space, Holmqvist taps into the manipulative powers employed by any sociopolitical organizations and players. Those entering the Unit are treated to dances, presented with museum-worthy winter gardens and quaint cafés, and encouraged to socialize with others in this compulsively monitored and expertly guarded structure — all so they will be deluded into thinking of the Unit as a humane space, one in which they don’t have to worry about being deemed outsiders since everyone therein is also childless and, most likely, single.
Weger’s journey is filled with unexpected twists — at times, she comes to adore her surroundings and cherish the friendships she creates; and yet the more she discovers about the inner workings of The Unit, the greater her sense of despair.
An accurate, persuasive, and disturbing analysis of group psychology and behavior, not to mention societal manipulation, The Unit offers a chilling look at a reality that’s not too far from the one in which we live.
My Little Red Book, $6. Available at Amazon.com
This is the type of book that would make immature men shudder. Edited by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, My Little Red Book is an anthology of short stories centered on first periods. By collecting these stories, Nalebuff hopes to demystify menstruation, to foster open and honest dialogue about a perfectly natural phenomenon which patriarchal society has turned into taboo subject that’s too often shrouded in shame and embarrassment. If men can boast about their sexual prowess, talk about their sexual organs (whether they’re lying or not!), and never feel bashful or inappropriate in doing so, why should women have to discuss periods in hushed tones, using silly code words (Aunt Flow, crimson tide, etc.)?
Since most women remember their first periods as pivotal moments in their journey to womanhood, this anthology allows them to swap stories and create a forum for discussion (and in a perfect example of synergy, the website MyLittleRedBook.net was launched so as to make this a global conversation). To show the breadth of experiences, both well-known writers (Judy Blume, Erica Jong, Gloria Steinem and Diablo Cody among them) and everyday women (San Francisco-based wife and mother of two Sandra Freundlich-Hall, Puerto Rican lawyer Kica Matos, university professor Bita Moghaddam, and more). There are stories about getting your first period at camp and stuffing your stained underwear with napkins, tales of girls who thought they were dying when they first saw blood trickling down their thighs, a hilarious tidbit about a young girl placing the cardboard applicator of a Tampax tampon inside her cervix, and many more relatable anecdotes.
Any woman will find some stories to which she can relate but, most importantly, if you’re the mom, auntie, or older sister, of a pre-pubescent girl, I’d advise gifting her with a copy of this book. She’ll more than thank you for it.
Street Boners: 1,764 Hipster Fashion Jokes, $12.91. Available at Amazon.com
Disclaimer: I hated Vice magazine with a passion. It was crass for the sake of being crass — it was the type of low-brow publication where the editors seemed to enjoy grossing readers out with guides to excrement types and illustrations demonstrating the dynamics of female ejaculation (and yes, these stories really ran in their pages).So, of course, when I heard the creator of Vice magazine, Gavin McInnes, was releasing a book of hipster fashion jokes, I cringed. I figured that, a best, it would be a compilation of on-the-street snapshots of hipster posers accompanied with snarky, condescending, and altogether oboixious commentary. And sure, Street Boners: 1,764 Hipster Fashion Jokes does occasionally veer into unnerving, I’m-cooler-than-you territory, but there are also laugh-out-loud, clever, on-the-mark insights throughout the book.
Each page is packed with photos of rel-life people on the street, in subway stations, in nightclubs and bars, at flower shops and tattoo parlors and in other city haunts. Most of them wear outlandish ensembles, and McInnes praises those whose taste borders on sublime while mocking those who completely miss the mark. The vast array of photos showcases the colorful characters and the kinetic energy of New York but McInnes’ rating system (and his quips) are all, of course, based on his very subjective sensibility — which, of course, means hot girls will instantly earn higher marks, even when their outfits are a complete train wreck. That being said, when he spots decisively ridiculous looks and rags on them, you’re bound to snicker. When he sees a man in a Fantastic Four-esque, wetsuit-like spandex ensemble, he writes, “It’ nice to see superheroes finally battling things, like me-not laughing.” The caption underneath a pic of a guy with dreadlocks that stretch down to his ankle, meanwhile, reads, “His hair is like the projects but for microbacteria.” Well, you get the point!