“The morning after I lost my virginity, I woke up with a hangover…” That’s right; you’re not the only one. Heather Havrilesky knows how you feel, and in her memoir, Disaster Preparedness, she gives insight into this and many other absurd experiences. Through humor and vulnerability, she creates a series of essays that highlight her chaotic life and her path of self-discovery.
Havrilesky visited our campus recently to read from and sign her newest book. When she took the podium, it was clear that she was modest about her accomplishments, but not with her vocabulary. She was a mother that said “fucking” and dared to break the “hot girl’s best friend” mold.
In her book, she channels herself as a child planning for disasters, a teen overcoming the loss of friends and stupid boys, and finally, an adult questioning why boys were still stupid and she wasn’t married.
At the reading, she read rapidly to emulate a teenage girl’s rushing thoughts and emphasized every curse word as if to stab those who hurt her one more time. She managed to carry herself quite well, but there were still moments when weakness came through; “It’s hard to relive the serious stuff,” she said. The feelings never cease to return when events are relived, and that’s why she writes. Although it’s difficult to go through again and again, we all do it. Misery is universal.
The chapter she read at the event was entitled “A Tree Falls in the Forest.” In it, she compares her first sexual encounter to a falling tree. If she had sex and no one knew, it didn’t happen—the tree didn’t not make a sound. If she had sex and she’s told nobody knew, only to learn 11 years later that the whole school knew, then the tree makes a sound—there was somebody there to hear it, even if she wasn’t aware. “If a tree falls in the forest, it makes a thundering boom. And then it’s over, and it’s quiet again, and the whole thing really isn’t as bad as you imagined it would be.”
Heather Havrilesky has done a lot before coming to this point of writing about herself. A co-creator of the cartoon Filler on Suck.com, she also maintains her popular website, rabbit blog, documenting adventures in parenting, relationships, and grammar. She is best-known as Salon.com’s former TV critic and pop culture enthusiast. And she has really has been writing about herself all along. Havrilesky says she used to begin television critiques on Salon.com with personal anecdotes. What she learned was that some people loved it and others retorted with something along the lines of “I don’t care about your life, just tell me if Real Housewives was any good this week.” This memoir finally allows her to tackle her own life head on.
THE DAY OF THE LOCUST
Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust was a critical and commercial failure upon publication in 1939, but was later determined an American classic. In 1998 it was inducted into Modern Library‘s top 100 novels of the 20th century. A comedic satire about 1930s Hollywood and its shoddy underground, West captures low-life characters who are, he says, “sent to Hollywood to die.” The protagonist, Tod Hackett, is fresh out of art school and aspires to become a great artist. He accomplishes little when he immediately falls in love with 17-year-old Faye Greener, an aspiring actress and daughter of a failed vaudeville comedian Harry Greener. Struggling to get extra work as a background actor, she works at a call house as an escort, servicing rich perverted older men for $30 an evening.
Another main character, Homer Simpson, is an Iowan hotel bookkeeper who moves to Hollywood to get away from his mundane life. He also falls in love with Faye, and he and Todd struggle to vie for her affection throughout the novel, accompanying her to outings with other low life characters, such as the bankrupt cowboy Earle Shoop, and the good humored Mexican Miguel. Miguel lives in a shack in the Los Angeles hills and survives off of food from his farm animals.
Tod and Homer can’t have Faye sexually, and she is worshiped by them as a golden starlet. Faye is the satirical embodiment of the “A-list” Hollywood actress to her close following of men, who she uses and manipulates to her advantage. She is unobtainable to Tod and Homer, and this narrative parallels the theme of the novel: it is impossible for desperate aspirants to achieve their Hollywood dream.
Although well-known as a novelist, West was also a screenwriter and depicts the “elite” side of Hollywood. Tod is befriended by successful screenwriter Claude Estee who lives in a Hollywood mansion. There is dialogue about the 1930s politics and the business side of Hollywood that West is believed to have overheard first hand. Although a work of fiction, the portrayal of 1930s Hollywood has been deemed historically accurate by critics today.
Only a little over 100 pages, The Day of the Locust is a quick, fun read. The fact that it’s decades old shouldn’t dissuade readers from picking it up. Full of violence and perversion written in West’s unique comedic style, the novel is almost impossible to put down. West’s prose is easily accessible and uniquely his own, one of the sure reasons that the book is considered an American classic today.
JOHANNES CABAL THE NECROMANCER
Have you ever been struck with the mysterious urge to read a thesaurus? “Well, of course, Mr. Bookworm, hasn’t everyone?” Alright, no need for sarcasm. A simple “no” would suffice. For those of you who answered (truthfully) in the affirmative, I have the perfect book for you. For those of you who are normal, you should also read this book.
Don’t let all the big words fool you; Johannes Cabal the Necromancer is a very down-to-earth book. While I did have to keep my trusty ol’ Oxford English Dictionary beside me, I found myself referring to it more out of curiosity than anything else. Jonathan L. Howard does remarkable things with context clues that keep you able to comprehend, though many of the words look like Latin, or possibly Sanskrit.
Essentially, Johannes Cabal (at some point in the unspecified past) sold his soul to the devil in exchange for the knowledge and experience required to scientifically reanimate dead tissue. I do not speak of Frankenstein’s experiments, either. Johannes uses compounds easily carried around that he refers to by test batch number and is constantly experimenting. This causes much hilarity in the first part of the book. He does have a problem, however. He has found that his lack of a soul is interfering in his experiments, and he needs it back. So he decides to pop off down to hell (like a BOSS) and ask for it back. Politely. The Devil refuses, but they agree on a wager. If Johannes gains 100 souls in one year’s time, he gets his soul back. Otherwise, eternal damnation right then and there. He is granted the use of an insidious Carnival to aid him.
If you are not a fan of dry humor, I would not recommend this book to you. That’s right, just walk on. Totally kidding, but it is seriously drier than a stale bread sandwich. For example, Johannes is mugged towards the beginning of the book. Actually, two men with the collective intelligence of a potted Begonia attempt to mug him. He repeatedly says he has nothing of value, going so far as to open his bag and demonstratively pull everything out and show them. The final item he pulls out is a handgun, at which point he says, “Now this is a Webley .577, the largest pistol one can legally obtain.” The two would-be Highwaymen become rather excited at this point, totally misreading the situation, and he shoots them both and tests one of his compounds on their fresh corpses.
Johannes’ story is really quite touching. His wager does what nearly all wagers with Satan do: it corrupts. Where Johannes ends up by the end of the book is something you’ll need to find out for yourself.