This week's mock draft, about which we were entirely too passionate for a bunch of idiot bloggers, concerns books. And just for fun, we invited a guest draftee: author and noted essayist Will Leitch, who is otherwise unaffiliated with sports blogs.
The guidelines: These are books that you're going to force a class of high school seniors to read. Assume that it's a public high school in a mostly middle class town: a few of the students are exceptional, a few are just passing time until they get pregnant or turn 18, and most are intelligent enough to read and enjoy a book but are generally too uninterested to do so. You may select a book for any reason: to better their enjoyment of literature, to educate them, or to torture them with highfalutin bullshit -- as long as you yourself have read the book cover to cover. It can be any one-volume bound book, any genre, and by any author except Will Leitch. Once a book is selected, all other tomes by that author are off-limits.
This is a long motherfucker (three rounds), so I edited out most of our douchey faux-intellectual repartee. Most of you will probably appreciate that, but if you're dying for more Gay Mafia + Leitch chatter, transcripts of the email threads can be purchased by sending $10 to my PayPal account.
1. CHRISTMAS APE: My Dark Places by James Ellroy
"These dewy eyed little shits need something that conveys some sense of the ugliness of the real world. Better still if it's expertly written and unstintingly honest. "My Dark Places" is at once a harrowing autobiography of a great writer and his youth spent on the streets, dealing with and trying to solve his mother's murder and a compelling detective procedural all in one. Thank me later, kidlets."
2. FLUBBY : Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 by Hunter S. Thompson
"Seriously kids, save yourself the time and expense of a political science major/minor. Read this, read "All the King's Men" and you're good to go."
Thanks, flub. Where were you when my adviser told me I needed to take a mere seven poli sci classes my senior year to upgrade my minor to a double major?
Drew: Punter's up. Will he take some sort of donkey fucking book? I say yes.
3. MONDAY MORNING PUNTER: Harrington on Hold 'em, Volume II, by Dan Harrington
"Are we going to teach young people about money management? Risk? Reading people? Relative value? Poker is a great laboratory for all of those things, and I'm not alone in that assessment. The Harrington on series are probably the best books for the best poker game out there. But Volume I isn't really practical for home game play and III is really just a workbook. For shorthanded game instruction, theory, and analysis, II can't be beat.
"They probably already teach this in junior high in Nevada, anyway."
4. LEITCH: The Long Walk, by Richard Bachman (Stephen King)
"This is one of the 'Bachman Books,' that collection of four novels that Stephen King wrote when he was, like, 19. Two of these aren't very good (even the one that inspired The Running Man, which is, god yes, quite good), one is decent if kind of creepy in the wake of all the school shootings (Rage) and one is balls-out fucking awesome. That's The Long Walk.
"The premise of the book is simple. In one of those not-too-distant futures that people love to write about, a dictator called The Major stages a yearly 'race' called The Long Walk. One hundred young men all line up and walk. That's it. You have to walk four miles an hour, and if you go under that speed three times in an hour, you're shot dead. That's the whole book. We meet all the different competitors, some of whom are compelling, some cliched, some just faceless nameless dead guys. Because he was about 20 years old when he wrote it, there's a lot of psychological metaphorical mumbo-jumbo that King would be smart enough to remove when he got older. But it's just a long, long walk, with a bunch of guys talking to each other, watching each other die. It's a brilliant idea for a book, and it's a book I must have read about 100 times in high school. When I'm in-between books now, I'm prone to pulling out my old ratty, rotting copy of The Bachman Books to read this again. It's not brilliant, but it rivets me every time I read it, even if I always know how it's gonna turn out. I read a lot of really boring books that I'm 'supposed' to enjoy. I still read this, over and over; it never fails me."
Leitch making a sentimental pick? So unlike him.
5. BIG DADDY DREW: A Confederacy Of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
"A story about a big fat arrogant masturbator who farts a lot? I win."
"It smells terrible in here."
"Well, what do you expect? The human body when confined, produces certain odors which we tend to forget in this age of deodorants and other perversions. Actually, I find the atmosphere of this room rather comforting. Schiller needed the scent of apples rotting in his desk in order to write. I ,too, have my needs. You may remember that Mark Twain preferred to lie supinely in bed while composing those rather dated and boring efforts which contemporary scholars try to prove meaningful. Veneration of Mark Twain is one of the roots of our current intellectual stalemate."
6. CAPTAIN CAVEMAN: The Things They Carried, by Tim O'Brien
I can't find a single fault with this book. O'Brien captures every aspect of combat in the present tense perfectly -- the foolhardy romance, the boredom, the instant surprise of death -- while toying with how memory changes our stories. It is a novel made from perfectly interwoven short stories, a work of fiction that feels like a memoir, and a contemplative meditation on story-telling all at once. It is a fucking masterpiece.
Ape: [after a quiet lull] How long does it take you to do a write-up on Invisible Man, Maj?
Maj: oh fuck
7. UNSILENT MAJORITY: Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
"I read this one three times over the course of my high school career, once with a fantastic teacher who loved teaching the book, once with a good teacher who would rather have been reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and once more on my own. I continue to read it on a regular basis today, I even have a copy here at work. I'm not sure how much a class of average high school students would get out of a single reading, but I'd make damn sure they read it at least that first time."
8. MAJ: Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
"Because those fuckers better start learning how to stand up to the government."
9. CAVEMAN: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler
It's hard to single one book out, because Philip Marlowe kicks so much fucking ass in every Chandler novel. I don't read enough mysteries to judge whether the plots hold up next to other giants of the genre, but the hardboiled prose, crystal-clear characterizations, and vividly gritty settings should be required for any teenager who's played Grand Theft Auto.
I'm still pissed that I had to find Chandler on my own. Fucking worthless education.
10. DREW: 10. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
You put so much stock in winning wars. The real trick lies in losing wars, in knowing which wars can be lost. Italy has been losing wars for centuries, and just see how spendidly we've done nonetheless. France wins wars and is in a continual state of crisis. Germany loses and prospers. Look at our own recent history. Italy won a war in Ethiopia and promptly stumbled into serious trouble. Victory gave us such insane delusions of grandeur that we helped start a world war we hadn't a chance of winning. But now that we're losing again, everything has taken a turn for the better, and we will certainly come out on top again if we succeed in being defeated.
"Yep, that's my kind of book."
Me: Catch-22's narrative arc is one of the most impressive things I've ever seen in fiction. That said, Heller needed an editor to kick his ass for his over-use of two-dollar words.
Drew: What are you, the dad from "Squid and the Whale"? Piss off.
Me: [opens up Catch-22 to random page] Page 45, these are the dialogue descriptors:
asked replied informed repeated reflected wondered mused echoed
SAID. The word is fucking SAID. It's a pet peeve of mine when writers use words that get in the way of dialogue.
Drew: I have an idea. When YOU write one of the greatest novels of all time, you can nitpick Heller's dialogue descriptors all you please.
Punter: Drew will change his tune when they release the updated, salmon-colored paperback.
11. LEITCH: Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
"Typically, I hate it when smart people tell me which great books to read. Sixty-five percent of the time, I can't make it halfway through; this is a decided disadvantage of not being smart. This is not one of that 65 percent. It's such a fast, gritty story that you don't notice you just read a Great Book until you're done. And, if you're lucky, not even then."
Everyone who's read it agrees: that book is fucking awesome.
12. PUNTER: Way of the Turtle, by Curtis Faith
"It's fucking sweet; think Trading Places without the 'comic' 'stylings' of Dan Akroyd. Of course, all of you hate finance, but had you been exposed to it at a younger age, you'd understand that markets and volatility are to be treasured, and that pedestrian dipshits like Matt Lauer should just shut the fuck up. There IS NO RECESSION!"
13. FLUB: The Crying of Lot 49, by Thomas Pynchon
"Because it is important for youngsters to learn sooner rather than later that every observer has their own take on what constitutes 'reality' -- and when your reality starts to get a little squishy... well, the fun is just beginning."
14. APE: Palestine by Joe Sacco
"Yes, it's a graphic novel. It's also one of the main things that got me into journalism (Which I could hold against it, but am choosing not to). Sacco, an American Jew, delves deeply and powerfully into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, getting a lot of the narratives from people that are never heard from in typical reportage. His drawing style both assists and propels the narrative, at once lifting comics and journalism into art."
15. APE: Ulysses by James Joyce
"'Cause it'll take the little fuckers the rest of their adult lives to read it."
Maj: and I thought Dickens would be harsh.
Drew: Could have been worse for them. He could have picked Finnegan's Wake. Nothing like trying to parse experimental, complex linguistic tricks typed out by a man who's nearly stricken blind. With footnotes that make equally little sense.
Maj: We aren't allowed to stop until Ufford picks a Nabokov book.
Ape: /awaits pale fire joke
Me: I love Nabokov, but I don't think I'd push it on high schoolers.
Drew: That's the guy Sting sang about, right? He's gay.
Me: Nabokov could ass-rape Joe Heller.
Maj: he's also a vastly superior writer!
16. FLUB: V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore
"Moore gets cranky when people compare his fictional British totalitarian government to American neo-conservatives. I say if the shoe fits, use it to kick Karl Rove in the nuts."
17. PUNTER: The GM, Tom Callahan.
"Probably the best inside peek of a football team that there is, although Next Man Up by Feinstein is awfully close. GM wins out because it's a little dirtier, a little less sympathetic. The resilient quote from the book is when Ernie Acorsi, right as he's leaving his dream job, adresses the team he literally built and announced plainly, 'I believe there is a championship in this room.' As it turns out, he was right."
18. LEITCH: World War Z, by Max Brooks
"Because books about the impending zombie holocaust are not just instructive, they're vital."
19. DREW: The Dirt by Neil Strauss and Motley Crue
"I'm not subjecting my kids to some bullshit Toni Morrison book. For the final book on the syllabus, they learn important lessons, like to how survive a Ferrari wreck while ensuring that Hanoi Rocks never records another album, and learning how to do a speedball and then nail a guy's ear to the floor of your apartment.
"Most entertaining book I ever read? Fuck and yes."
20. CAVEMAN: The Contortionist's Handbook, Craig Clevenger
Clevenger writes his ass off in this novel about a forger with polydactyly whose drug addiction threatens to land him in a mental hospital. It's an addictive read, and I always pick it up whenever I feel my prose is uninspired and flat.
21. MAJ: World's End by TC Boyle
"I'm passing on the obvious (anything written by Michael Chabon) this time around, and I'm also forgoing any book that they'd likely have read by now. Instead I'm selecting World's End because I've always felt that it's the kind of book I should have been reading in high school."
World's End? More like DRAFT'S END! Boosh!