Quick Reads

Robert Lanham, Louise Erdrich, and Elizabeth Crane.

Don't Boggle on My Bennie Like The Official Preppy Handbook a generation before it, The Hipster Handbook (Anchor Books, $9.95) is a knowing, funny little send-up of the social class it purports to describe. Do its 10 hipster sub-typologiesSchmooze, Polit, Bipster, Neo-Crunch, etc.even exist? Probably not outside the head of Williamsburg, N.Y., author Robert Lanham, but that really doesn't matter. His handbook satirizes both the hipsters who find themselves parodied in its pages and those credulous types who might think his guide is for real. Appropriately for the subject at hand, Lanham's tone is deadpan and inside inside, the irony collapsing into infinite regress, as he describes the world all we Dukes of Hazzard-watching hipsters live in: 1970's lunch boxes and emo; lesbian porn and Jackass; heavy-metal "devil fingers" salutes and vegetarianismwe can embrace the contradictions, right? That's why it's essential to counterbalance your Yo La Tengo records with a little Ted Nugent. On DVD, it's necessary to have both Buffalo '66 and Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! You need an ample supply of too-tight vintage T-shirts from flea markets and yard salesit doesn't matter what cheesy icons or slogans they bear; the key is that you're way cooler than the lame-os who originally wore them with fatal sincerity or indifference (it's unclear which is worse). It's all a put-on, of course, like Lanham's binary opposition between "deck"(cool) and "fin" (uncool), and often hilarious. Yet the book falls short of Lisa Birnbach's 1980 preppy field guide because Lanham doesn't seem to have ventured beyond Brooklyn for his research, describing Belltown, for instance, as the epicenter of Seattle hip. But then again, maybe Belltown is cheesy enough now that it is hip. The biggest laugh will come later. With luck, Lanham will fool the editors of The New York Times' Sunday Styles section into writing headlines like, "Are You Deck Enough for Your Neighborhood?" That will be fin. -Brian Miller Tough Cuts People were tougher during the Great Depression. They could cook with lard, skin and butcher animals, refinish furniture, or balance stacked chairs and an acrobat on their stomachs. In Louise Erdrich's The Master Butchers Singing Club (Harper Collins, $25.95), Delphine is a road-show performer from a small North Dakota town, whose partner, Cyprian, manages that acrobatic stunt on her rock-hard abs. They appear in Argus, Delphine's hometown, as man and wife, but their actual status is considerably more complicated than that. Erdrich hopscotches between different times and characters, from post-WWI to post-WWII, from Germany to Chicago to New York, delving into their thoughts here, skipping over several years there. She's not intent on a straightforward, linear narrative, which helps complicate what's not a terribly complicated book. But it is an enjoyable read as you try to untangle Delphine's very tangled family history, her knotted-up relationship with Cyprian, and her eternal bond with the wise Eva, a German immigrant to Argus, who's married to the master butcher, Fidelis. In an epiphany, Eva's words give shape and structure to Club. "There is a plan, eine grosee Idee, bigger than the whole damn rules," she says, referring to the seemingly random deaths, calamities, and misfortunes afflicting those who eke out their existence on the Great Plains. There are dark family secrets to uncover in Club, corpses in the cellar to horrify, young lovers to cheer, and the threat of WWII to give everything a mortal undercurrent. Babies are born and people die. There's even a murder. It's all very Thornton Wilder, with all the same depth of Our Town. Still, I liked the book. One strong woman's determination to overcome obstacles needn't be treated as profound stuff, and Erdrich doesn't handle it that way. Club reads like a fictionalized tribute to a certain set of values that now seem lost in our soft, sedentary, SUV-driving nation. Most people today can't change their own car tire. The hardiest old broad in Club, a minor character with major revelations to make, looks down on a mewling new baby stubborn enough to survive an unheralded, unwanted birth in the cold, then thinks, "Good. The tough ones live." -B.R.M. She Understands Too Well The stories in Elizabeth Crane's When the Messenger is Hot (Little, Brown, $21.95) are about love. Or some variation of love: wanting it; having it and not wanting it; throwing it away and then missing it; feeling obligated to find it; finding it, maybe, and then feeling obligated to be happy. It's the kind of love we all know, and Crane is the kind of author with that perversely developed intuition capable of reaching into the human soul, identifying the deepest, frankest thoughts, and then displaying them, on paper, for all the world to see. It's maddening, and fascinating, that she could know so much about you. But she just does. In "Proposal," when Crane's character outlines her belief that Valentine's Day should be scrapped and replaced with something entirely less threatening, you know exactly what she's talking about. And in "Year-at-a-Glance," when someone cries over a new car, you don't know precisely how she feels, because your mother hasn't died of lung cancer. But you can certainly understand how someone in her situation would feel just that way, just the way Crane describes. You nod your head at what you just readand how "Isn't it just so right?" it isthen maybe phone a friend to tell her (or him). I'm going to go so far as to say that this isn't just chick lit, and that, in fact, Crane's writing is vaguely reminiscent of Nick Hornby. Crane's 16 stories are a little sad, but funny mostly and real. Messenger makes for an excellent bus read or a gift for a friend who's going through, well, just about anything. -Katie Millbauer Blow by Blow Stephen King's contribution to White Lines (Thunder's Mouth Press, $16.95), a cocaine-culture collection of previously published material, is a three-page confession pulled from his On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. The essay, in which King comes clean on how he finally got clean, ends with an image that ties this whole compendium together: "We all look pretty much the same when we're puking in the gutter." Not everything among Lines' 31 chapters is autobiographicalin fact, some of it is downright clinical, e.g., Freud's 1884 "ܢer Coca"but almost all of it is as grim. Kim Wozencraft's contribution, taken from her 1990 novel Rush, is an extremely vivid and largely personal account of narcotics cops who turn into driveling idiots crawling on the carpet looking for one last speck of that miserable dust. Aleister Crowley's unsettling "Au Pays de Cocaine" stylishly and fiendishly re-creates Parisian paranoia, circa 1922. The chapter taken from Arthur Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four reminds that even a fictional master of deduction can fall into a world of addiction. William S. Burroughs, Brett Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh, Jay McInerney, and others also represent a wide variety of experiences and perspectives. Everyone looks the same puking in the gutter, but what this anthology illuminates is that it's myriad lifestylesin myriad time periodsthat take them there. -Laura Cassidy info@seattleweekly.com

 
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