This Week's Reads

Paul Feig, Greg Palmer, and Will Eisner.

Superstud: Or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin

By Paul Feig (Three Rivers Press, $13.95) Fans of Freaks and Geeks, the late, much-loved NBC series masterminded by Paul Feig (and canceled in 2000 after a single season), will understandably flock to his new memoir, in which he recounts his sexual history from the second grade onward. Unfortunately, Superstud contains precious few moments that rise to the lofty level of F&G. Maybe that's because the show employed about a dozen recurring characters, and nearly as many co-writers and co-producers, to tell its tales of heartbreak and triumph among the nerds and stoners at a Michigan high school. Feig, on the other hand, has only his own experience to relate. Whereas his TV scenes were crisp and benefited greatly from the comic timing of a terrific cast, Feig's prose scenes tend to drag. And though you might be the kind of person who likes reading about people's awkward erotic fumblings—and I honestly am—I'm sorry to report that Feig's aren't much more interesting than the average person's. Perhaps to compensate, he flies his geek flag high, emphasizing his Christian Science upbringing and his dysfunctional relationship with dirty magazines. He also dishes plenty of dirt on his first few girlfriends, including Jill, who ditches him for an older guy at an REO Speedwagon concert, and clingy, pushy Nicole, who kisses with way too much tongue. There's a lot of potential for humor here, but Feig never builds up much momentum. His ongoing "dialogue" with God turns into lame shtick after the first few outings; why, then, does he make the big finale a Bible parody? Throughout, chapter titles like "Arrested and Jailed Development" reflect Feig's sense of humor all too well: a little too broad and trying a little too hard. Where Superstud occasionally succeeds is where F&G did consistently: in the poignant exchanges that emphasize how hard it is to be stuck between childhood and adulthood. When the teenage Feig returns from his soul-crushing date with Jill, his dad is waiting up for him in the den. After giving him a good-natured grilling, Feig's father suggests a game of cribbage. "Even though I felt like I should say no," Feig writes, "there was nothing in the world I wanted to do more." This would be the perfect ending for an episode of F&G—and if you're a die-hard fan like me, you might just want to skip the book and rewatch the show on DVD. Again. NEAL SCHINDLER Paul Feig will appear at Queen Anne Books (1811 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206-283-5624), 6:30 p.m. Wed., July 20. Adventures in the Mainstream: Coming of Age with Down Syndrome

By Greg Palmer (Woodbine, $16.95) If there is a more affecting book about the fierce love of a parent, I haven't read it. Adventures in the Mainstream follows two years in the life of local writer and TV producer Greg Palmer and his son Ned, who has Down syndrome. Ned, just turned 20 when the book begins, is on the cusp of adulthood. He is transitioning from a super-sheltered life in which, as a disabled child, he has been considered "cute" to one in which he must make steps toward independence; the word "cute," in the eyes of wary outsiders, no longer applies. Ned is an appealing figure. He's on the highly functioning end of his disability, a verbal and enthusiastic person with an encyclopedic knowledge of rock history, an effusive pride in his family heritage, and an eccentric interest in people who have died. We watch a number of milestones in Ned's life through the loving eyes of his father. Ned receives his diploma from Nathan Hale High School while classmates give him a spontaneous standing ovation. His dad, determined that Ned's disabilities won't prohibit him from seeing new places and people, takes him on a graduation cruise around the British Isles. The cruise is as much a revelation for his shipmates, many of whom have never before met someone with a disability who can hold his own conversationally, as Ned can. There's a lovely scene in which Ned and a dinner companion take turns reciting poetry. Ned's picks are Georgia Roberts Durston, Carol Sandburg, and Dr. Seuss. Later, Ned and his family seek and find a job for the young man that is the beginning of a life beyond his parents. It's a sense of this life to come that drives the narrative and gives it its emotional power. Ned does not understand that he is disabled, not in the beginning of the book anyway, but his parents do, acutely. Feeling that he needs to know so he can navigate the world on his own and avoid people who may try to cheat him, they break the news to him. His response: "I find that a little hard to believe." Early on, Palmer wonders how you can keep lives from going wrong—"especially for those you love, those you have a duty and a desire to protect, even from beyond the grave." Ned's disability heightens Palmer's concern. But all parents—achingly aware of their children's vulnerabilities, wanting desperately to make the world right for them—can relate to his moving sentiment. NINA SHAPIRO The Plot: The Secret Story of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion

By Will Eisner (Norton, $19.95) Slice off the hydra's head, and a thousand hydra-headed maggots pour out of its neck hole. That's the disquieting conclusion offered by master artist Will Eisner to one hallmark hate text in particular, and the problem of scapegoating-as-rationale-for-destruction in general. Having created the long-running comic The Spirit and expanded the vocabulary of comic art for almost 70 years, Eisner died this past January. The Plot, which occupied him over decades, stands as his final obsession, but one certainly in scale with its ambition and its target. That target is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purports to be the minutes of a secret 1897 meeting of top-flight Jews bent on world domination. Henry Ford printed this stuff in America. Hitler found it satisfying, and it's still read around the world today. As you can imagine, no such meeting actually happened. Eisner traces the Protocols' origins to late-19th-century French writer Maurice Joly, who published The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, a satire aimed at bringing down Napoleon III. Around 1905, Mathieu Golovinski cribbed large portions of the Dialogue to create the Protocols. He took orders from high-ranking Russian officials desiring ammunition for their anti-Semitic and anti-modernization agendas. It worked. Nicholas II became the first of many big fish on this forgery's line. So why debunk the well-known fraudulence in a graphic novel format? Eisner makes quick, vivid studies of Joly, Golovinksi, and English journalist Philip Graves, who exposed the intrigue in 1921. The effect is a thriller supported by side-by-side textual comparisons, comp-lit center stage. Paragraph by paragraph, Joly's rhetorical, ironic invocations of tyranny and conquest became Golovinksi's bold, straightforward assertions of same. Throughout, beyond the textual analysis, you can appreciate the fluidity, grace, and offhandedness of Eisner's line. In his introduction, he writes, "There is now an opportunity to deal head-on with this propaganda in a more accessible language." In other words, younger minds may not be inclined to pour through anything resembling weighty scholarship. Meanwhile, Protocols continues to work its poison, as some people's desire to believe outshines any interest in truth. To achieve the latter, Eisner's followers may have to reach for an even higher bandwidth, like video games or DVD or the Web, to slay this hydra in the new century. ANDREW HAMLIN

 
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