Monday, November 1, 2010

Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon and Balsamic Dreams

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon and Balsamic Dreams.

I really have enjoyed what I've read of Joe Queenan, but I end up feeling a little guilty for a few seconds. Not long, just enough to say "He's so mean..."

I first read Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon in 2004 and loved it absolutely. A self-aware culture snob who boasts of seeing Arthur Rubinstein in hallowed New York music halls, Queenan decided to spend a year indulging in the worst of contemporary popular culture: Billy Joel, John Tesh, Joan Collins' novels, a trip to Branson, Missouri and worse. It's incredibly entertaining, but I couldn't help but feel like he was shooting at pretty stationary targets. The John Tesh concert was pretty darned amusing, though. Actually, all of his prose is very entertaining, although he falls back on one or two reliable gags, like giving a big list of cultural vomit and intentionally listing the same target, like Yanni, multiple times. That joke wasn't that funny the first time.

Well, if Red Lobster... feels a little unfair with its pretentious tone, Balsamic Dreams is a much more honest and reasonable book. In this one, he targets his own generation of Baby Boomers and finds everybody wanting. He carpet-bombs his peers, accusing them, broadly, of short-sighted self-importance. It's very funny, caustic and really iconoclastic stuff, although I can't agree with keeping the emergence of ponytails in the list of ten areas where the Boomers went awry, when he makes a much better case for the emergence of Asylum Records as an apocryphal aside. Both are recommended for readers with a sense of humor.

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