Monday, October 22, 2007


Week 5 of Art Class. At this point I am exhausted. Not because I have been painting non-stop or anything like that. I am exhausted of trying to figure out how to tell the art instructor that he and his Badtz-Maru pencil case sucks. Ok, maybe not the pencil case, but he definitely sucks. The pressure of trying to paint or draw something decent, something to bring to class, with his shitty instruction is going to kill me.

The guy is never prepared. I doubt if he even has a lesson plan on what activities we are going to be doing and how to build up our skills for these eight weeks. He never even bothered to give us a list of supplies to bring. On the first class, he came in and said "We're doing collage!" and then looked at us, as if his proclamation is all we need to get started.

All the students, who did not bring ANY kind of supplies: brushes, glue, magazines, looked at each other and knew that it was going to be a long eight weeks. The instructor had two X-acto knives that the class had to share, which he pulled out of the Badtz-Maru pencil case.

The pencil case is basically the only thing that is only thing that is letting him hold on to any sort of good will from me. If he ever comes to class without it...well, let's just say nothing, not his lip piercing, his vintage bowling shoes or his cool hair will save him from my glorious wrath. That pencil case is like the Anti-SeaBear circle protecting him and his skinny Squidward legs.*

*According to the Spongebob Squarepants mythology, an Anti-SeaBear circle is the only thing that will protect you from a vicious sea bear attack--especially when you are out camping in the backyard of your pineapple.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Wao! Wao! Oscar Wao!

I don’t know about you, but as a reader, I have very high expectations. I expect that a novel have characters that are real, complex, tangible, that they are just one step away from being my own friends. I mean, if I wanted just any friend, I’d go hang out at a gay bar and buy drinks. I’ve never had as many friends as when I’m at a gay bar with an open tab.

If you’re author Junot Díaz, you’ve already gotten this down pat. Your skill as a writer is evidenced by the fact that your characters are not people I would normally associate with, whom I would totally shun, but am somehow drawn to and maybe even hang out with, if they bought me drinks.

Especially if your character is the titular Oscar, an overweight Dominican nerdboy with bad skin, bad hair whose glory days have passed him by at the age of seven, when he had yet to become a torpid teen, when youth was his ally and he had been the smoothest cat on his block. The apex of this period occurred when he had a three-way kiss with two girls at the bus stop, pre-dating The Real World hot tubs. Then it was downhill all the way. There are rumors of a weird curse--a fukú--on him, his family, possibly dating back to his ancient ancestry.

The story is narrated by Yunior--Oscar's sister's ex-boyfriend (wha...?), who tells the story in an epic mash-up gangsta cholo slash Lord of The Rings style, in an effort to divine the source of the curse or ward it off, I'm not sure. Then Oscar's troubled sister Lola jumps in and puts in her two cents into the boiling cauldron. Just when you're ready to write off some evil character, some truth is revealed and you go on hating the character but not without heartache.

Junot Díaz keeps all your senses occupied with his strange patois: a mixture of English, Spanish, Klingon, moving the story forward with an urgency and casualness which would’ve been at odds itself, if it had been written with less skill, throwing in pop culture references at you, like Donkey Kong throwing barrels at a befuddled Mario. At the same time, he peppers the story with footnotes explaining obscure customs or personal histories--short stories really--in three, five or ten sentences.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is Díaz’ first novel, although I had been first introduced to his work by way of Drown, his debut book of short stories in 1997. I normally don’t read short story anthologies because it’s usually one or two great stories, two more middling ones and then filler.* But I bought Drown because as I read the first paragraph at the bookstore, Díaz’ voice grabbed me with both hands and almost like he yelled, "It’s clobberin' time," I was drawn into the melee. Just like that. Check out his books.

Read this: "Homecoming, with Turtle" by Junot Díaz

*There is only one exception to this rule and that’s Stephen King’s book of novellas Different Seasons, which spawned not one, but three feature films including Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil and Stand By Me.To this day, this book rules this category for me.

Other great writers I recommend:

Pulp Fiction - David Schickler is no namby-pamby, sensitive, wryly comic author. I predict he's your new fave author.

Interview with John McNally - If you like 'em rough, troublemakers are his specialty. Check out The Book of Ralph.

Get the books: