When it comes to getting your stocking stuffed, it's hard to top an iPod, the ultimate high-tech gift item. But not everybody has a few hundred dollars lying around to ensure Aunt Edna enjoys the latest Madonna video.
So why not go low-tech this holiday season with an array of Gutenbergian splendor? And we're not talking about what the big publishing houses in New York want you to buy (although Kim Cattrall's new book, Sexual Intelligence, looks so yummy, we can't blame you for picking it up). Instead, we're talking about the small presses in America that consistently produce the tastiest writing, especially compared to today's rather bland mainstream offerings.
Put away those reindeer games, holiday shoppers! Here are some small-press books for every kind of reader on your Secret (or Not-So-Secret) Santa lists.
Lisa Crystal Carver's Drugs Are Nice: A Post-Punk Memoir (Soft Skull Press, $14) is as nasty, brutish and sexually degrading as anything Carver's old trash-rock band Suckdog ever recorded during the '90s. What's scarier about her memoir, though, is that everything in it is presumably true, from full-on prostitution to faked rapes onstage as part of a "performance" with her husband, a French avant-garde musician. There aren't too many cult authors as deranged and scatological as Carver, and when her free-spirited antics catch up to her in the form of a disabled child born out of wedlock (thanks to her neo-Nazi lover), the writing adopts a pitiless backward glance that not even William S. Burroughs could have mustered. The fact that Satanists pummel the book-touring Carver at her readings (because of her disparaging criticism of Anton LaVey) proves that she's an extreme writer.
It's almost time for Peter Jackson's King Kong remake to hit theaters. But why drop money on a re-novelization or "Behind-the-Scenes" book when you can penetrate the psyche of the world's best-known giant ape, courtesy of poet William Trowbridge? The Complete Book of Kong (Southeast Missouri State University Press, $14), originally published in 2003, has been reprinted in time for the blockbuster's release. If you ever wanted to know the dread and desires that govern the heart of Skull Island's most misunderstood refugee, Trowbridge's verse will make you laugh and cry. Take, for example, the opening line of the opening poem: "If I had worked it out, I'd be on a train to Green Bay, / not crawling up this building with the Air Corps / on my ass." Now that's Kong-sized humor!
OK, let's see what's filed under "Self-Help." How about Jennifer Blowdryer's Good Advice for Young Trendy People of All Ages (Manic D Press, $15)? When you're living in the underground, it helps to know the rules, we guess. And with chapters like "How to Be a Good Dominatrix" and "Prison Do's and Don'ts," we're guessing that being young and trendy is a lot more, um, challenging these days than it was during, say, the '60s. Regardless, this is a great inspirational guide/survival manual for hanging out in "alternative" circles, and just about any sentence taken at random presents a kernel of warped truth: "If you do not do enough drugs, you'll never understand some of the world's most important songs and stories," writes Blowdryer. And here we were thought Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" was about a trip to the dentist! Be careful, however, when it comes to "The Joy of Debt." We don't want any collectors pounding at your door.
Ah, cartoons. Ain't they cute and cuddly? Well, enough of that; try Joe Pachinko's The Incredibly Stoopit Adventures of Granpa Stuped (Superstition Street Press, $3). Pachinko is the Oakland-based scrivener responsible for the eco-porn noir SWAMP! and the anti-poetry collection The Urinals of Hell, both of which generated more hackles than sales. Now he tries his unhinged hand at comic strips with the deaf, blind and hyper-senile Granpa Stuped, who spends most of his time screaming "What?!" and crapping himself. With a drawing style akin to "Dilbert" on mescaline and a nursing-home setting rife with bizarre entertainment (like a white Christian gangsta rapper), this little book may seem taxing at first, but give it a moment. Soon, Granpa Stuped will find his demented way into the deepest chambers of your heart. Just make sure and flush those chambers when he's done, all right? (You can order this one at SuperstitionStreet.com.)
Feral House is simply one of the best publishing houses in America--period. Their books are beautiful-looking and always fascinating. If you enjoy outré subjects like black magic (Aleister Crowley and the Ouija Board) and black metal (Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of Satanic Metal Underground), then Feral House has your deviant fix. Their 2005 catalogue is rich, particularly Sex and Rockets: The Occult World of Jack Parsons ($16.95), which reads like something psycho-pulp novelist James Ellroy might have imagined, except that it's true. Parsons was a pioneering rocket-fuel designer who helped the Allies win World War II. But he had a sinister, secret side, in which he called himself The Antichrist, performed dark rituals and plotted to wipe Christianity off the face of the Earth. He also cultivated a friendship with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. That Parsons died in a mysterious explosion is just so much frosting on this delicious biographical cake of technology, sorcery and '50s pop culture.
We've covered memoir, poetry, biography, self-help and comics. Now it's time for rock 'n' roll. Continuum Books is still spitting out its Thirty-Three and a Third series of short books about landmark rock albums, hiring established writers and musicians to jot down their thoughts on monuments like, say, The Velvet Underground and Nico. One of the series' newest installments is by Bill Janovitz, singer/guitarist for legendary alt-rock trio Buffalo Tom. Janovitz takes on the Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street ($9.95) with satisfying results. Not to sound snobby or anything, but most rock musicians lack the mental capacity to compose a grocery list. Janovitz (which, for some reason, is spelled "Janowitz" on the book cover), on the other hand, has always stood out from the pack with his literate songwriting. Reading his informed thoughts on a crude record like Exile is the best way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Be sure to keep a copy of the Glimmer Twins' masterwork near at hand, because Janovitz will make you want to blast it. A must for any Stones fan.
So there's your holiday gift guide, Tucson Weekly readers. And remember to try your local independent bookstores--like, say, Antigone Books on Fourth Avenue--before giving in to the big chains.