On The Bureau Chiefs’ Nightstand: August 4 2010

The Bureau Chiefs' Nightstand

After a long day at work, the Bureau Chiefs like to relax in bed with books and comic books. Since there are 16 of us, our bed is 64 feet wide and our nightstand is the size of a small elephant. Here’s what is stacked up next to it.


After a long spell of reading only comics, the wife and I took a trip to nearby bookstore Legacy Books. I’m embarrassed to say I did not know this enormous independent bookstore existed, despite the fact it was about 15 minutes away by car.

I picked up a couple books: My Custom Van, a collection of comedic essays by Michael Ian Black, and The Brief History of the Dead, by Kevin Brockmeier.

My Custom VanI tore into My Custom Van first because I needed exactly what Sarah Silverman’s blurb described: something “fun to read while you’re pooping.” And it is. If you don’t know Black, he’s one of a group of improv/sketch/comedy people who’ve been involved in a multitude of projects from The State to Wet Hot American Summer to Reno 911. I hadn’t put my finger on the guy as that guy until recently, and I’m only now starting to appreciate how greatly influential his brand of comedy has been on me for most of my life.

And My Custom Van is, indeed, fun to read while you’re pooping. (Also when you’re not!) As with any anthology or collection, there’s a few clunkers–”I Have An Indomitable Spirit” just sort of wanders all over the place–but the good essays are so good that they more than compensate for the less-amazing ones. “Taco Party” and especially “Using the Socratic Method to Determine What It Would Take for Me to Voluntarily Eat Dog Shit for the Rest of My Life” are brilliant pieces of comedy that I had to put down because I thought I was going to choke on my laughter. It’s now entered my “compulsively loan out to friends and family” pile.

The Brief History of the Dead is a complete about-face from My Custom Van. It’s a fiction about two worlds: the world of the living, and the limbo “City” that the dead reside in while there are still people alive who remember them. As the living world empties out due to a horrible new plague, the City likewise empties out until only a scant few remain. There are two leads: Luka Sims, the only newspapermen in the City, and Laura Byrd, a still-living woman marooned on an arctic expedition. People who know me know this is basically exactly the kind of thing I go for, and the peculiar choice of the definite article The in the title–as in The Brief History of the Dead, not A Brief History of the Dead–only piqued my interest further.

I’m only a few chapters in, but this is riveting stuff. Brockmeier’s prose is cool yet lush, and his ability to render this fantastical City so effortlessly is a testament to his skill. I’m still too early in the book to guess where exactly he’s going with this (though I have some theories), and definitely too early to tell if he can pull it off, but so far I’m glad I picked it up.


The Red NecklaceI finished The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest earlier this month, and after being immersed in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy I was having difficulty finding something to read that captured my interest. I settled on Sally Gardner’s swashbuckling historical young adult novel The Red Necklace. Set in the time of the French revolution, the necklace in the title of the book refers to a mysterious piece of jewelry, but it also can stand for the red line that appears when someone’s throat is cut. I’m only around a third of the way into the book so far but I’m finding it very entertaining. Yann Margoza is a Gypsy boy of unknown parentage who makes his living assisting a magician and a dwarf in a magic show that features an intricate automaton. Sido is the daughter of an aristocrat who enjoys looking over his shoe buckle collection while remaining utterly oblivious to the coming revolution. When the villainous Count Kalliovski kills Yann’s magician benefactor and demands Sido’s hand in marriage to settle her father’s debts, the unlikely duo get swept up plenty of historical intrigue against a backdrop of civic unrest. Gardner’s attention to detail makes The Red Necklace entertaining, as the excessive habits of Sido’s father are cataloged while Yann finds a new family in the form of Sido’s long-lost relatives in London.


The Four Fingers of DeathI think it was, hm, two weeks ago?  I was in the bookstore and suddenly saw the new Rick Moody book, The Four Fingers Of Death, which I believe had just come out that day.  I was excited for several reasons immediately, all at once.  First of all, there was a new Rick Moody book that I had had no idea was even coming out.  The last book I’d read of his was The Diviners, which was a great read, and I’ve been a general fan of his for quote a long time.  (Bonus Points for anyone who remembers the comic he wrote with Steve Dillon doing the art that ran in Details.)  Secondly, the cover just knocked my socks onto their asses.  It’s so good that you almost never want to even consider eBooks again.  It’s so good that I actually leave the dust jacket on when I carry it around on my commute.  It’s really really sharp, in other words.

The book itself, right. Well, it starts off a little bumpy for the first few pages.  Long time Moody readers will be instantly surprised by the extraordinarily florid first person narration, a big departure from Moody’s usual prose.  But after a few pages, it clicks, and it eases into a really compelling read.  It’s his take on futurism and sci-fi, but undercut with the usual melancholy and quiet beauty.  So far, a really fantastic read.

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