(Because I make my way through so many books and movies for CCLaP, I regularly come across projects that are interesting enough unto themselves but that I simply don't have much to say about, or at least not enough to warrant an entire entry. I thought, then, that on occasional weekends I would gather up such "micro-reviews" and post them all in one large entry; they can also be found on CCLaP's main book and main movie archive pages.)
By Joe Meno
Regular readers know that I am a longtime fan of Chicago contemporary lit legend Joe Meno, one of only a handful of local authors here right now to have broken through into national-scale reputation, media attention and resulting sales; and there have been projects of his in the past that I've really loved, and ones I found only so-so, and ones I thought...er, not so so-so, so I'm never exactly sure what I'm going to get when I dive into a new one. But this latest, from our friends at the great Akashic Books and being released just this week, is a different thing altogether from anything else in this shapeshifter's career -- deliberately small and intimate, and easy to dismiss at first as the meaningless musings of hipster douchebags, by the end it manages to be rather wistful, heartbreaking and melancholy, a sneakily tight manuscript that gets better and better the farther you read. Essentially the full beginning-to-end tale of one of those torrid three-week romantic relationships that litter so many of our pasts, and set among good-looking twentysomething art-school dropouts because, hey, why not, Meno's point here is to look at one of these people who sometimes just randomly blows into our lives for a bit, changes it profoundly, then just as randomly leaves again for the entire rest of your life; and by following it in its full messy glory, Meno's bigger point is to remind us of why these experiences are so important, why we remember them so nostalgically and positively for nearly the rest of our lives. Set during the Great Chicago Blizzard of 1999, the entire book has a muted and closed-in tone that serves its Before Sunrise feel well; and although Meno occasionally leans on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl tropes a bit too much (she has doe eyes and a thrift-store coat! She bicycles in the snow! She does impromptu absurdist performance art on the el!), by humanizing her in a sophisticated and complex way he largely avoids the biggest sins of that cliche, making this a quickly paced charmer that I suspect will eventually be one of the most popular titles of his career. A novel just begging to get adapted into the quirky movie debut of the next big national indie-film darling, it comes strongly recommended to existing fans of Garden State and (500) Days of Summer; and don't forget that I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Meno here in Chicago for nearly an hour almost exclusively just about this book for the CCLaP Podcast, so I hope you'll get a chance to check that out as well when it's available next week.
Out of 10: 9.4
Star Trek FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the First Voyages of the Starship Enterprise
By Mark Clark
Applause Theatre and Cinema Books
Even the author of this trying book admits right in the introduction that there is now already a plethora of well-written books regarding each and every little sub-topic that exists concerning the long-running Star Trek franchise; and so that begs the question of why we should care about this newest one, or indeed why it even exists at all. And the answer after wading through this filler-crammed fluff piece is, "Hmm, I'm not exactly sure," which besides the serviceable, Wikipedia-quality cores of each chapter are otherwise padded out with the very definition of "page-filling pablum;" the trouble starts right at the beginning, with multi-page looks at every tiny little previous acting part every cast member of the original Star Trek had had before joining the show in the mid-1960s, and just pretty much gets worse from there. It's not terrible, which is why it isn't getting a terrible score; but like the author says, I found it difficult to understand why it even exists, and recommend that you instead pick up a better-written specific guide to whichever topic in particular you're most interested in.
Out of 10: 7.1
I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts: Drive-By Essays on American Dread, American Dreams
By Mark Dery
University of Minnesota Press
To be clear, I rather liked a lot this newest book of essays by subversive Gladwellesque philosopher/columnist Mark Dery, which is actually the first work of his I've ever read, because of seeing a plethora of fantastic things about it online from places like Boing Boing and people like Warren Ellis; and so why I was a bit disappointed despite its pedigree is that this turns out to not really be better than someone like Warren Ellis, but really just more a repeat of Ellis and other anarcho-nerds' ideas, only filtered through a Noam-Chomsky style of writing. (And indeed, the introduction to this high-profile academic publication was written by none other than fellow anarcho-nerd Bruce Sterling.) That still makes it great, don't get me wrong, and absolutely essential reading for those not yet familiar with the anarcho-nerd mindset; but for anyone already a veteran of Mondo 2000 and the like, Dary's transgressive thoughts on Lady Gaga and David Bowie, the cultural significance of so many zombie stories these days, and the homosexual overtones of the Super Bowl will not really be that much of a surprise, a bit of preaching to the choir for Happy Mutants, Pastafarians and Biscuit Biblers. If you don't know who any of those groups are, immediately read this book; but if you do know them, this book doesn't need to be as big a priority on your own reading list.
Out of 10: 8.8