The Movie: South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, 1999 (Trey Parker, Matt Stone, & Pam Brady, screenwriters; Trey Parker, dir.)
Who says it: Trey Parker as the voice of 4th grader Eric Cartman
The context: Cartman and his friends have just learned a whole new vocabulary from the R-rated Terrance & Phillip movie, Asses of Fire.
How to use it: To note the corrupting influence of popular culture on your values system.
The Internet Movie Database says this movie contains 399 profane words, 128 offensive gestures and 221 acts of violence. The day it came out, I gave myself and my assistant, Sara, the afternoon off, and we snuck off to Tenleytown to see a matinee. Never let it be said that I neglected Sara's professional development; now she works on Capitol Hill, and she needs that vocabulary.
This week's reading list seems a little long, even to me. I blame the insomnia, which I know is probably an early sign of seasonal depression... but the calendar says spring is only 10 days away, and my calendar (decorated with American flags and photos of soldiers) would not lie.
So this week, I read:
Kate Atkinson, Case Histories. This book deserves all the praise it's gotten, and I'll throw in a little more. Ex-police inspector turned private eye Jackson Brodie takes on three apparently unrelated cases in Cambridge: the disappearance of a toddler 30 years earlier, the unsolved murder of a young legal secretary, and the disappearance of a young woman whose mother had killed her father 20 years before. What sets this book apart is the loving attention Atkinson pays to even her most minor characters: nothing is wasted, everything is connected, and Atkinson brings it all to an unlikely but entirely justified happy ending. Loved this book, loved it loved it loved it.
Randy Wayne White, Dead of Night. I read an advance copy, and the author had warned me that it was a mess, even missing entire paragraphs. So I should probably hold off on commenting until I read the finished book... Randy White is dear to me, and I'm a fan of this series, which stars marine biologist and ex-covert operative Marion "Doc" Ford. Doc Ford is probably the closest successor to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. I will say that the villains in this book -- bio-terrorists -- are his most frightening yet, and the fact that Randy wrote half the book after a hurricane wrecked his house is nothing short of heroic.
M. Scott Peck, Glimpses of the Devil. This is that book about demonic possession I mentioned earlier in the week. Dr. Peck mentioned his involvement in two exorcisms in an earlier book, People of the Lie; this book provides detailed histories of both cases. I'm not sure who the audience for this book is. It's unlikely to convince anyone who doesn't believe in the possibility of demonic possession, and it doesn't seem to be targeted to mental health professionals. Although Peck keeps his tone deliberately measured, even dry, it all felt a little voyeuristic to me.
John Rickards, Winter's End. This is the first novel I ever read just because I liked the author's blog. Former FBI agent and PI Alex Rourke returns to his hometown in northern Maine to investigate a bizarre murder: the suspect is standing over the victim with knives in his hands, but no forensic evidence ties him to the crime, and the suspect's not talking. It's a great premise, and the northern Maine setting's a courageous decision, because the author lives in England. But I had trouble with the first person, present tense narration, and I was distracted by details his editors at St. Martin's should have caught: among them, Americans say "acetaminophen," "red-haired," and "pieces," rather than "paracetamol," "ginger," and "bits." Also, I spent an entire hour wondering whether there really was a town in northern Maine where the houses were mainly brick, a detail the narrator mentions. I haven't been to northern Maine, so I don't know. It would be unusual, though.
Steve Martin, The Pleasure of My Company. What a lovely, lovely book this is -- a very short novel about Daniel Pecan Cambridge, who lives in Santa Monica as a prisoner of his many fears and compulsions. He can't step over a curb, so he crosses streets only at driveways or wheelchair cuts. He imagines an elaborate love affair with a realtor he can't bring himself to talk to. He enters a pie company's essay contest explaining how he is the Most Average American. But life takes a hand, and Daniel discovers that kindness is repaid and love is possible, even for him. I checked this out of the library, but I need to own a copy of it for myself. So do you. So does everyone.