Two Fast Reads

...with surprisingly enduring flavor.

I'm a slow reader so I particularly like books that read fast. Prose that "leans forward" in a way that makes it easy to keep going. Both of these books had that quality for me, yet manage to pull off some nice social commentary and human pathos at the same time.

Personal Days, by Ed Park, is a post-Dilbert, post-Microserfs look at office culture. It's like the show The Office, except populated by people who, for the most part, understand what is happening to them. What I like best about the book is Ed Park's use of cliché phrases. You know how that first song on Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom album (Beyond Belief) strings together known phrases into something entirely bigger? Or the way Delmore Schwartz would italicize a phrase as if to show it was a saying instead of just words? Know what I'm saying? Park does this throughout his text, creating a gentle, phantom hypertext that required no further explanation. And this black comedy about downsizing brings an almost Beckett-like sense of reduction to the dwindling office.

The Rules for Hearts, a family drama, by Flytrap comics writer Sara Ryan, reads a bit like one of those young adult novels I'm so very fond of, even though its characters experience some of the kinds of sex reversals and confusion usually postponed until one's late twenties or early thirties. I hate memoirs (just because) so I depend on short novels with characters I can relate to for that necessary shot of personal narrative. Sara Ryan isn't a totally new voice, but this, her third book, still reads with that freshness of someone's first novel.

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  1. Ah yes, Elvis Costello’s album.

    There are dozens of them — and the first song on the current one doesn’t match your description. Can we have another hint?

  2. Oh sorry. IMperial Bedroom. I went to look for the album to see the name of the song and couldn’t find it. Then forgot my fallback of the album. Will fix.
    d

  3. I’ll throw in a quick read I picked up at the library. “Northline,” by Willie Vlautin. You may have heard of his other novel, “Motel Life.” The book is only about a 150 pages, so it goes very quickly. In the back of the book is a CD that is supposedly a soundtrack to the book composed by the author and his band, Richmond Fontaine.

    This book reminded me of another excellent quick read I’ve mentioned before, ‘”Snitch Jacket. The author of that used to write for the LA Times crime beat. Both these books seem almost like a throwback to street lit from the 40s or 50s. Looking forward to more offerings from Vlautin and, um… the guy who wrote Snitch Jacket.

  4. I read Personal Days – quite a bit in it for a slim volume. Magnus Mills fans should seek it out. (And vice versa, if you’ve read Personal Days and enjoyed the black humor parts of it, seek out Magnus Mills’ novels.)

  5. I loved Personal Days. Thanks, Deweyeyed, for the Magnus Mills recommendation.

    Personal Days is full of passages you’ll laugh out loud at. Ed Park has a keen mind and is an author to watch.

    Totally different genre, but also quick reads–just about anything by Carl Hiaasen. Lower-brow but hilarious.

  6. “Personal Days” was pretty good, but “Then We Came to the End” by Joshua Ferris was the better book about office hijinks, I think. Funnier, and more “heart” than Park’s book, but they’re both worth checking out if you like The Office and/or if you live The Office.

  7. Now We Came to the End has a really fantastic cover design. For me, it didn’t quite live up to the lavish praise written all over the jacket, but it made me happy to see a contemporary book rolled out with such energy.

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