Bill’s Book Blog, 1/16/2021

I’m trying to read 104 books* this year. Here are some thoughts about the ones I read last week!

I feel embarrassed that I only just read Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (1990), but at least now I’ve done it.

In the unlikely event that you’re a person on the Internet who isn’t familiar with this book (or with the recent Amazon miniseries adaptation starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen, which I haven’t seen), the gist of Good Omens is as follows: It’s time for the Antichrist to reveal himself and for the battle of Armageddon, but the Antichrist has been misplaced and one demon (Crowley) and one angel (Aziraphale) have begun to have second thoughts about the entire eschatological project. A series of fast-paced and comical adventures occur as the Antichrist (who is approximately 11 years old) slowly begins to come into his power while Crowley and Aziraphale (who have developed a friendship over their years working on opposite sides of the Heavenly Cold War) try to A) find him and B) maybe stop the Apocalypse.

I was raised on Douglas Adams books, so the anarchic tone that pervades Good Omens is very comforting to me, and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. Yet for all that the book is definitely a good time, I found it a bit disappointing as a philosophical statement. Perhaps that’s asking a bit much, but I do think the book feels like it has Something to Say at the end, what with its comments about how Heaven and Hell have a lot more in common with each other than either side wants to admit, or its portrayal of humans as being more inventively evil than most demons could ever imagine. Yet the takeaway doesn’t seem to be much more than vague admonitions to be nice to each other, and to move through the world without worrying about prophecies.

Good Omens is also somewhat peculiar in that it’s set in a world undergoing a version of Armageddon, as outlined in the Book of Revelation (complete with Four Horsemen and an Antichrist, though without a Rapture), yet only makes the vaguest of references to the Christ of which there is an Anti-. This may not be a fair criticism, since the book is clearly interested more in the Christian-Eschaton-As-Understood-By-Pop-Culture than it is in the Christian-Eschaton-As-It-Appears-In-Revelation, and the Christian-Eschaton-As-Understood-By-Pop-Culture has much more to do with metal album covers than with any sort of complex theology.

But I’m probably getting a bit carried away here. The book is a lot of fun, and is frequently hilarious, and that’s all a person can really ask for! Also the hellhound that turns into a small dog is very appealing to me, since I’m the sort of man who names a 7 pound Yorkshire Terrier/Maltese mix “Azathoth.”

I also read Stuff White People Like, by Christian Lander (2008), the next book in my “read all the weird stuff on my shelf” project. In this case, I believe the book was given to me as part of a White Elephant gift exchange about ten years ago. A White Elephant exchange is exactly the right place for this mostly forgettable book.

Stuff White People Like began as a blog that Lander ran for a while in the late 2000s, and this book just consists of a sort of greatest hits collection from the blog. The idea is to make fun of the certain kind of hipstery, self-righteous, upper middle class white person that Lander encounters in his daily life (other kinds of white people (rural, poor, conservative) are not the ones he’s parodying here, and are consistently referred to as “the wrong kind of white person.”). Lander himself is white, so I think the book is intended to come off as somewhat self-deprecating.

As it is, the book mostly comes off as annoying. It’s essentially one long Internet-style numbered list, where a “thing” that white people like is listed, and is then followed by two to four paragraphs making jokes about that “thing.” The jokes are rarely particularly funny, and by about a third of the way through the book I could predict the arc of the jokes: the white people like things that make them feel authentic, and unique, and “different” from other white people, particularly if the thing doesn’t require very much work from them. The parody isn’t exactly wrong, but it rarely rises above the level of weak satire – there’s not much insight to be had here.

Interestingly, several of the entries present advice, apparently aimed at some non-white person, about how to deal with white people. “If you find yourself around a white person, do X, Y, or Z in this circumstance to make them like you/want to sleep with you/promise to help you move” is a fairly standard punchline. Yet I would bet a significant quantity of money that the primary audience for this book is, of course, other white people. One of the things “white people like” is, I suspect, Stuff White People Like, which is exactly the sort of self-deprecating-yet-self-aggrandizing project that the book is otherwise making fun of.

Anyway, it’s harmless, I read the thing, and now when I see it on my shelf I don’t have to feel a vague pang of guilt.

Current Progress: 6/104, or 5.77%.

Current average pagecount: 253.33, repeating of course.

*I count anything originally published in a standalone volume as one book, and although there’s no specific page-length requirements for what constitutes a “book,” I want to aim for an average of 300 pages at the end of the year.

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