Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate - Al Franken (2017)

This is the second post about politics in as many months.  Perhaps it being 2017 has something to do with that.  People have their ways to speak out about various issues through social media, and this is mine.  I do not engage in prolonged persuasive argument, nor condemnations via Facebook status updates against the scores of politicians and other bad actors that commit atrocious acts every other week, or day.  While I do find many of their actions hilariously terrible, I write about them by writing about books by Democratic Senators.

I am referring, of course, to Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and Ted Cruz.  I do not need to say that Trump is the worst president in history.  He is just hilariously terrible.  Hopefully no major damage will be done by his administration.  Many will say, "C'mon man, how can you say that?  What do you call the travel ban?"  And sure there's that, and probably a number of other things that have already been actively changed for the worse.  My point is, he wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and he can't seem to get the votes, so we can hope that his term will be mired in the same gridlock that compromised so many of the bills passed by the Obama administration.

Franken tells that story in a very effective way.  The obvious thing to do here is compare it to This Fight is Our Fight.  Giant of the Senate is a better book.  Warren specializes in financial policy, so it makes sense that she needs to make a little extra effort with the reader.  Franken supports Warren on the vast majority of issues (I would be interested to see if they voted the same way on every bill).  He does not, however, purport to be any kind of expert on financial regulation.  Like Warren, he writes about how his previous career informed, and continues to inform, his political career.  He writes saliently about many of his pet issues (minute details of the ACA, especially) and outdoes Warren in the departments of readability and creativity.  And we always have to go here too--everyone wants Elizabeth Warren to run for President, and she's made it clear she doesn't want that, but what about Franken?  No one ever talks about him running for President.  He says nothing whatsoever to suggest that he would like to run.  Nor does he say why he wouldn't.  

Considering the book on its own, it's quite good and highly recommend it.  Like the recently-reviewed NYC 200's oral history, I did not want it to end.  Okay, it wasn't quite the same--I didn't enjoy it quite as much.  However, it was much more consistent.  They're completely different books.  I don't know what I am doing.  I wanted to excerpt one thing about the ACA, because Franken explained something about the Supreme Court decision in 2012 that I never really knew or understood (how Justice Roberts struck down certain provisions of the law) even though I wrote an extensive feature on the various opinions issued by the Court for my school newspaper.  Franken's tone is less of a teacher and more of a regular guy acerbic comedian that went to Harvard who just tells you how things worked:

"But Chief Justice John Roberts, custodian of the Court's reputation, knew that killing health care reform with a third highly partisan, legally dubious, and immediately impactful 5-4 decision on the heels of Bush v. Gore and Citizens United might undermine any remaining confidence in the Court's integrity once and for all.  So Roberts voted with the liberals, agreeing that the mandate was constitutional.  But he picked a different rationale, concluding that the mandate was allowable because the penalty it imposed on people who didn't buy insurance was really a tax, which Congress is empowered by the Constitution to implement.
Roberts's reasoning was so weird that Supreme Court reporters from both CNN and Fox News initially reported the ruling wrong.
Also, critically, Roberts's decision included a drive-by shooting: It eliminated the requirement that states use federal dollars to expand their Medicaid programs, which would have helped cover millions more low-income Americans.
An expert marksman, Roberts had aimed directly at the ACA's foot, weakening the law before it could go into effect.  Republicans hadn't succeeded in getting the Court to block Obamacare, but they could take solace in the fact that Chief Justice Roberts had made it less good." (258)

On the subject of health care, there is another example early on that underscores why the Affordable Care Act makes sense.  Here I will pause briefly to say that, I do not like the ACA because I consider the premium for my exchange plan very high ($366), having known what it's like to have excellent employer-provided coverage ($30, pre-tax).  Franken describes how the U.S. health care system is analogous to the Cambodian system (for those without a job that gives them insurance), and he does it so well as to be nearly immune to criticism:

"The day after the announcement, I visited a health clinic in Minnesota where my friend Dr. Margie Hogan worked.  I spent time meeting with health care providers and patients and listening to some of the horror stories that were commonplace before the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
One of the stories Margie told me became a mainstay of my stump speech.  It involved an incredibly promising seventeen-year-old girl from a Hmong* family who was doing college-level work as a junior in high school.  But she had lupus.  And her family earned just enough money to no longer qualify for MinnesotaCare, a program that covered low-income families in the state.  The girl lost her health insurance.
Lupus is a chronic disease, and the medication that controls it is extremely expensive.  The girl told her parents to stop buying it so they could afford to take care of the other kids in the family.  It broke their hearts, but she was right: They couldn't afford the medicine, not with everything else weighing on the family budget.  So they stopped buying it.
The next time Margie saw the girl was six weeks later, back in the hospital.  But this time, she was in the emergency room, suffering from renal failure.  She had to be put on dialysis, and doctors thought she might have to be on dialysis for the rest of her life.
'Now, that's wrong,' I would tell crowds that had invariably gone quiet by this point in the story.  'But it's not just wrong--it's stupid!  How much is it going to cost our system to give her dialysis throughout her life?  And how much is this going to cost her, in terms of her potential and her quality of life?'" (80-81)

That asterisk goes on to describe the Hmong people (random aside: isn't the kid's family in Gran Torino Hmong?) and is also the major point of my criticism: the asterisks are too small!  Clearly, I can see when each page has footnotes, but I would always miss the asterisk in the body of the text itself and search for sometimes like 30 seconds to see which part Franken was joking about or explaining further.

There are a ton of jokes in this book and that is one of the ways it is most refreshing.  Because Franken writes a lot about how he has not taken most of the opportunities he has gotten as a Senator to be funny, and he seems to have been holding his breath for the past 8 years, and finally this is like a big vomit pool of jokes.  I was kind of excited when Franken got elected because I thought he would bring more humor to various political events, but he hasn't done that very much.  He does in this book, however, and he also mentions every time he tried to be funny and how it backfired.

Those above quotes about health care also make me want to mention Mitt Romney. Because part of what makes this book good is Franken's willingness to point out the few redeeming qualities his Republican colleagues possess.   I have never heard anybody complain about Romneycare, and regardless of how much credit he is due for that piece of legislation, it appears to be the gold standard in the American health care system:

"What would a conservative solution to the 'Cambodian system' problem look like?  Well, actually, a lot like Obamacare.  The three-legged stool model, in fact, had originated with the very conservative Heritage Foundation, and had been enacted in Massachusetts under a Republican governor with the improbable name of Mitt.  Where, by the way, it worked extremely well: Romneycare now covers 97 percent of Bay Staters, and both Democrats and Republicans there intend to keep it intact, no matter what Trump and my Republican colleagues do to Obamacare between the time I finish this book and the time you read it." (250-251)

This is the beginning of the change I hope to see develop in this country over the next few years.  Democrats never give Republicans credit for anything, and Republicans never give Democrats credit for anything, but Franken recognizes that we need to focus on our commonalities rather than our differences.  This is most effectively established in his "64 Percent Rule" chapter.  Most of this is spent discussing No Child Left Behind and amendments thereto.  It comes across more generally throughout the rest of the book as well.  Franken is very good at "reaching across the aisle."  Even though he humiliates several Republican members of Congress, he generally has something nice to say about them to offset the opprobrium.  This is not the case for Ted Cruz.  Notwithstanding that, he still refers to Cruz as "extremely smart," a "gifted speaker" and a brilliant advocate at oral argument in the Supreme Court.  The chapter "Sophistry" details many of their encounters and is one of the true highlights of the book.  In particular, the whole joke about the Carnival cruise line incident is very memorable.


Okay, big mistake.  This is the worst mistake I have made on this blog in years.  I had written a whole other long section of this review, and I think it may have been the best part.  It touched on how this book was also notable because it could be classed in the same category as books like Bossypants.  It touched on the fact that I saw Ted Cruz on CNN yesterday, doing an interview segment from Houston, and expressing that Texas did not have enough disaster relief funding, and how that is one issue that is non-partisan.  Still, NPR could not help bringing up climate change and asking if the storm was caused by it.  Their scientist said it couldn't be directly attributed to it, but more moisture will generally form as the air gets warmer.  I compared it to Katrina and basically forgot about the more recent underfunded disaster Sandy, maybe because I was in a part of Brooklyn largely shielded from it.  I think we can all agree that Katrina was more devastating.  Yet the point was made that Sandy was more devastating, and many Texas congressmen (35 out of 36) voted against additional funding for Sandy relief effort.  So yes, we could think that disaster relief will become a partisan issue too, depending on the state that is being affected.

And I excerpted the second half of a section about a joke Franken made about the Supreme Leader of Iran.  During a hearing, when his turn came, he said something like, "I'd like to question the Supreme Leader, whom I like to refer to as Supreme Being, a few questions..." Everybody thought this was hilarious, and it is funny, but the story of how Chuck Schumer botched the joke with President Obama is funnier.  I regret that the book was due at the library today and I finished up yesterday, thinking it was close to complete--or at least complete with excerpts, because I needed to include one that was actually funny.  On the subjects of botched jokes and Ted Cruz again, the line where he suggests changing "difficult" to "challenging" (as an adjective for "cruise") was probably the funniest moment of the book for me.

I didn't hit "save" last night, maybe because I was interrupted by a door-to-door canvasser for an alternative energy supplier (Constellation) that led me down a 30 minute rabbit hole and no small bit of consternation.  I am not going to write about that but it was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life.  So that is my excuse.

I ended on a very "book review ending" note.  I assessed the work as a whole, and I mentioned that Franken was unique because he was the one politician that was actually funny.  Somehow, I linked to reviews of both of Warren's books for some proposition that I forget.  I believe I mentioned that he did not have as specific ideas as Warren when it came to re-allocating government funds.  For the life of me I cannot recall what idea led to that statement.  Like, I wasn't saying Warren wasn't funny, but acknowledging that her career as a law professor did not prepare her as well as Franken's for writing funny books.  There is a little bit of Kurt Vonnegut in Franken's literary style, and it is refreshing to witness a lawmaker write about serious issues and still maintain a certain ironic distance to capture the absurdity of the situation.  This quality makes Franken an effective writer, speaker, inquisitor, leader, and whatever other nouns might be relevant.  Most importantly though, he hates lying politicians.  People hate politics because they hate all the lying.  Franken calls out a ton of it in this book, and it's always infuriating and ridiculous.  So that's ultimately why Franken is such a likable political figure.  It never feels like he's feeding you any B-S line.  If he did, he would self-consciously admit that it was a B-S line.

Except the line about Mitch McConnell snorting milk out of his nose from laughing so hard with him.  I think I only know he meant that satirically by hearing him mention that on a podcast.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Days of Abandonment - Elena Ferrante (2002) (Transl. Ann Goldstein)

About a year ago, after seeing Suicide Squad, my longest-time friend started talking about this Italian author who wrote under a pseudonym, raving in particular about her novel concerning a woman being left by her husband.  I forgot the name of the writer--but there were enough details to remember (female, Italian, pseudonym) that I could piece together who she was.

I finally got around to picking up The Days of Abandonment in late June, and took it with me on a recent trip to New York.  Just as we were landing in New York, my seat neighbor inquired if the book was good, and I recited the above regarding the recommendation.  He told me he had read My Brilliant Friend and the other trilogy.  I told him I was surprised it was published in 2002, but that I hadn't heard of it until now.  He said he thought it was because Hollywood had come knocking.

The Days of Abandonment is a first-person narrative from the perspective of Olga, a 38-year-old mother of two (Gianni and Illaria), recently left by her husband, Mario.  To get more detailed, Mario leaves her for a younger woman, the identity of whom is unexpected, and sort of obvious at the same time.  Olga basically falls apart, and the novel is about her going crazy.  It culminates in a sort of nightmare day from the hell, after which she gains some form of clarity on her situation.

Ultimately, it is a very satisfying novel, and sprinkled with that sort of European attention to detail and simplicity of style that feels effortless.  The opening line is a perfect example, immediately reminiscent of another European master (Camus):

"One April afternoon, right after lunch, my husband announced that he wanted to leave me." (9)

Okay, that is not nearly as simple as the opening of The Stranger, but that same sense of the immediate impact of sorrow is struck.  The novel takes the shape of 47 relatively short chapters of varying length, which feel more like sketches of scenes.  It seems to take place over the course of six months, but the primary action in the novel is the day that comes right around month four (Saturday, August 4th), chapter 18 - 34, pp. 88-151.  A great deal of this section has to do with the locks on the front door.  She manages to lock herself and her family inside of their apartment because she cannot undo the locks.  She has a special set installed, with two keyholes that have to be turned just right.  As a person that has had to call a locksmith to get into his apartment after his key broke off in the door, at least once, maybe twice, I could identify highly with this section.  However, it goes a little bit too far!  Here is one example I randomly flipped to:

"But I knew immediately, even before trying, that the door wouldn't open.  And when I held the key and tried to turn it, the thing that I had predicted a minute before happened.  The key wouldn't turn.
I was gripped by anxiety, precisely the wrong reaction.  I applied more pressure, chaotically.  I tried to turn the key first to the left, then to the right.  No luck.  Then I tried to take it out of the lock, but it wouldn't come out, it remained in the keyhole as if metal had fused to metal.  I beat my fists against the panels, I pushed with my shoulder, I tried the key again, suddenly my body woke up, I was consumed by desperation.  When I stopped, I discovered that I was covered with sweat.  My nightgown was stuck to me, but my teeth were chattering.  I felt cold, in spite of the heat of the day."  (117)

She has a new set of locks installed after a set of earrings from Mario's grandmother go missing.  She has a vaguely unpleasant, vaguely sexual experience with the two men installing the locks, particularly the older of the two.  The book is filled with such vignettes.  Her complicated feelings about herself as a sexual being culminate in an encounter which ends up becoming an unlikely, ambivalent romance.

Her relationship with the family dog, Otto, is also worth comment.  Otto is arguably a bigger character than either of the children, because she feels more saddled with him than the children.  It seems as if Mario was the one to get him, but does not take him with him, and she resents the additional responsibility.  But as always tends to happen, she develops a bond with the animal--however, not before a somewhat shocking incident in the park following another woman's reproach after he scares her and her baby:

"When he didn't stop I raised the branch that I had in my hand menacingly, but even then he wouldn't be silent.  This enraged me, and I hit him hard.  I heard the whistling in the air and saw his look of astonishment when the blow struck his ear.  Stupid dog, stupid dog, whom Mario had given as a puppy to Gianni and Ilaria, who had grown up in our house, had become an affectionate creature--but really he was a gift from my husband to himself, who had dreamed of a dog like that since he was a child, not something wished for by Gianni and Ilaria, spoiled dog, dog that always got its own way.  Now I was shouting at him, beast, bad dog, and I heard myself clearly, I was lashing and lashing and lashing, as he huddled, yelping, his body hugging the ground, ears low, sad and motionless under that incomprehensible hail of blows.
'What are you doing?' the woman murmured.
When I didn't answer but continued to hit Otto, she hurried away, pushing the carriage with one hand, frightened now not by the dog but by me." (54)

There could be many more things to say about this novel, but I don't believe in spoiling several of the smaller details.  For example I found this feature in the New Yorker by James Wood which covers much of the same ground of this review, but divulges a few more details.  It is also probably much better written because it was composed and edited as part of a day job, rather than a hobby masquerading as an entryway into the limited commercial landscape of art.  Suffice to say, sometimes spoilers are necessary to explain my estimation of a novel's worth, but I think the halfway point of a story is (generally) a fair boundary.  It spoils nothing to say however, that anybody who has ever been dumped or left to their own devices--especially those left in Olga's unfortunate position--will find some measure of solace in this work.  Regardless of one's perspective, there is great humanity and truth within it, and a likely catharsis for the reader.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011 - Lizzy Goodman (2017)

Meet Me in the Bathroom is an oral history of the NYC rock scene in the early 2000's.  It is about the Strokes, Interpol, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and DFA Records/The Rapture/LCD Soundsystem.  To a lesser extent, it is about the White Stripes, Kings of Leon, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend, Fischerspooner, Franz Ferdinand, the Killers, Ryan Adams, the National, Conor Oberst, the Vines and the Moldy Peaches.  And there are even more incidental references to other bands of the era.  It starts off with Jonathan Fire*Eater, as a precursor to the Strokes.  I had never heard of them before and I thought the Walkmen (which 1/2 of the band eventually became) were a bigger deal.

Jonathan Fire*Eater is positioned in the kind of Velvet Underground role in Please Kill Me, the first band to get mentioned out of the gate, the primary influence from which the scene sprouts.  Everybody that listened to the Velvet Underground started their own band.  Admittedly, it is a tall task to match up to VU, but JF*E do not directly influence the sound of many of the bands that are later written about, in quite the same way.  Regardless, it is an interesting way to the start the book, because it is really more about the scene in the late 1990's.  It goes right into the Strokes from there and never lets go.  This is really the Strokes book, at least in terms of myth-making and cementing their status as icons.

I am really conflicted about this but I cannot quite put it on the Best Books list.  It is really, really good, but it would basically equate it to Please Kill Me and Lexicon Devil.  And obviously, Please Kill Me is a classic, and Lexicon Devil was just a blistering experience for me.  This book was extremely entertaining though and I loved it.  I was sad when it was over, and that to me is one of the signs of a great book.  Whatever, I change my mind.  It belongs on the list with that qualification.

It is perhaps worth noting that I went to NYU in 2001 and so was the target at which so much of the buzz of these bands was aimed.  My friend Danielle burnt me a copy of Is This It.  Interpol was a band of NYU graduates (Paul Banks met Daniel Kessler at NYU in Paris, where I would be 4-5 years later).  Also in Paris, I went to see the Rapture at some festival type thing at a club in the Bois de Bologne.  We would sometimes go out dancing at Favela Chic and I remember my friend Tommy talking about them.  One night the DJ played "House of Jealous Lovers" and he was like, that's them!  It was pretty awesome, so we went to the show, and afterwards we saw the band and walked up to them with our third friend, Sarah.  We were like, "We're from New York too!"  And they were like, "Um, cool."  They weren't very interested in talking to us, so I always had kind of a weird feeling about them after, but I still got Echoes.

A fair number of the bands featured in here played $5 NYU shows, and I went to almost all of them.  I also miraculously got a press pass to the CMJ Music Marathon in the Fall of 2002, and saw many there as well.  I was there as the scene shifted from Manhattan to Brooklyn.  I read Our Band Could Be Your Life and gave it to my friends.  I  recruited about twenty of them to join a potential band, with which we had two very tentative practices.  I took guitar lessons and wanted to learn the drums.  Finally I convinced my friends to let me manage their band, and got them their first gig.  Even though I had no musical talent and could not (and still cannot) play any instruments, I wanted to be around people that did, and I wanted to get involved any way I could.  My point is, it wasn't just the Strokes, but the whole scene, that made people want to start their own bands.  That kind of situation lends itself well to an oral history.

The atmosphere of New York circa 9/11 also influenced us all.  One of the things about this book that elevates it into Best Books territory is chapter 30.  I would say that it is the finest piece of writing I have read, to date, on the subject of 9/11.  Nothing else had ever so perfectly encapsulated my experience:

Andrew VanWyngarden [MGMT]: "I was a week into my freshman year at college and that's such an impressionable stage.  I was a virgin and I was meeting all these new people and was just bright eyed and wow.  Then September 11 came and I got so deeply freaked out, paranoid, and just knocked off of my foundation of what reality was that it just totally fucked me up." (203)

There are also a ton of journalists that supply the oral history.  The book is dedicated to Marc Spitz, a voluble presence, who recently passed away.  Marc Maron is also a contributor and I have been listening to the WTF podcast a lot recently.  One of them was with Ryan Adams and my friend actually asked me to go to a Ryan Adams concert in Milwaukee right around when he dissed the Strokes on Twitter.  So this is really still topical.  Apparently Marc Maron is also putting out a book in October that follows a similar format to this, so I'll probably check that out.  Perhaps he was influenced by his experience participating in this, and realized that it is a pretty interesting way to construct a book.

David Cross also hangs out with the Strokes and there are a couple embarrassing stories that I won't recite here.  But the stuff about Ryan Adams is too funny to pass up:

Ryan Adams: "One night I was hanging with the Strokes guys and Ryan[Gentles].  We were really stoned because we were basically always smoking pot.  It was very late.  Fab would always play me a song that he had written, some beautiful romantic song.  So one night, jokingly, I'm also certain Fabby said, 'Dude, what if John Mayer was playing that guitar right now?'  And I said, 'I can make that happen.'  And they all said, 'You're full of shit.'  I said, 'Give me three fucking beers'--because there were only so many beers left at that late hour--'and I'll make it happen.  I'm a goddamn genie in a bottle.'  And we died laughing.  Now, I lived down the block from John Mayer and he'd been talking to me about his new song for a while.  So I texted him, because he was always up late back then.  I said, 'Come to this apartment.  Bring an acoustic guitar.  I really want to hear your new song.'  I didn't tell them that I'd done it.  So everyone is sitting there and I was like, 'Let's all take bong hits.'  I really wanted it to get crazy.  We smoked some bong hits; I probably did some blow.  I started to drink my three beers.  The doorbell buzzer rings and I open the door and John Mayer walks in with his fucking acoustic guitar and they were all slack jawed.  John sat down and played the fucking acoustic guitar--three or four songs that probably have gone on to be huge--while those guys just sat there staring at me like ,'Oh my god, you're a witch.'  The next day John was like, 'Hey man, next time maybe less cigarette smoke?  That really hurt my throat.'  That apartment was like an airport smoking lounge." (379)

In short, I could understand why Ryan Adams might not like the way he comes off in this story, but I finished the book more interested in him.  He's basically one of the greatest characters in the story.  He comes up in his own way, as he arguably peaked in his popularity with the video for "New York, New York," which was released at almost the exact same time as Is This It, basically on 9/11, or maybe a week or two later.  But he mostly comes up as a friend to, and a potential "bad influence" on, the Strokes.  Most others are candid about their drug use, and also use the excuse that 9/11 bestowed upon the city a kind of desperate party-because-we're-going-to-die atmosphere.  One reads a book like Meet Me in the Bathroom because it has the kind of gossip that you don't usually read about except in really unguarded stories in Spin or Rolling Stone or on Pitchfork.  It is also good for correcting inaccuracies that are awkward to kind of mention out of the blue, but fit perfectly with the subject matter.  One of the most striking is about the LCD Soundsystem song "Someone Great."  Now, many people really love this song, and I think most consider it the second best song off Sound of Silver after "All My Friends."  It also supplies a sizable piece of "45:33" (which I actually bought).  Everybody says that this song is about mourning a lost lover.  But I found the truth even more touching:

Tyler Brodie: "Do you know about the therapist?  I never met him, I don't even know his name, but I do know LCD's "Someone Great" was later written about him."

Tim Goldsworthy: "That's not about a love affair.  That was written the day that James's therapist died." (265)

James Murphy apparently did therapy three times a week.  The book also touches on "Beat Connection," which gave me occasion to play it just now, and I have to say it is a really great song.  I think Murphy sounds more like Mark E. Smith on it than on "Losing My Edge," though he is more on rant mode in that song.

The book is just filled with interesting stories and I think it would appeal to a general audience even if the reader doesn't know very much about the bands themselves.  There are also little tidbits about the realities of life as a musician that is yet to "make it" that are particularly amusing.  Take, for example, this nugget of truth that I appreciated as the purveyor of MEP:

Chris Taylor: "When I first moved to Brooklyn, Chris Bear, who plays drums in our band, moved into the same loft as me; we built it together.  We were in this band, and at that age when you really have the energy and ambition to do all of this.  There's just things that you don't care about that allow you to be free and experimental and take big risks and live in a dirty place and you don't give a shit.  Rent was really cheap, $600 a month.  Chris and I were vegetarians because it was cheaper--we cooked rice and beans so many nights.  We priced it out.  We knew the cost of the beans and the cost of the rice and we bought the onions and we're like, 'Okay, cool, this whole food element of life is under five bucks.'  We can buy a Yuengling, which was like a dollar fifty, which was definitely a choice beer at that time, and that was enough.  You find a cheap bike, so you don't even have to take the subway.  That and some money for weed, that was your budget.  That was all you needed."

Dave Sitek: "It was so cheap that you could afford to take risks and fail.  If you failed at what you were doing it didn't matter because you were in Williamsburg.  If you failed in Manhattan, it was different."

Eleanor Friedberger: I rode my bike everywhere.  I got all of these amazing jobs that were so easy and stupid.  I would work these office jobs, then go out every night, and I could afford to pay my rent" (310-311)

Speaking of Eleanor Friedberger, she really only has one revealing story, which involves the period when she was dating Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand.  I don't know if there will be a "deluxe edition" of Meet Me in the Bathroom that comes out in 20 years (the way Please Kill Me was later supplemented), but I would read it if there were chapters on the Fiery Furnaces, and other bands like Liars and !!!.  That is one of the primary criticisms I have of the book.  It could have been even bigger and better.  Actually there is a brief mention of the Fiery Furnaces record deal.  And this classic bomb she casually drops:

Eleanor Friedberger: "It only seemed weird that bands like the Strokes and Interpol were around at the same time as us when they started doing so well and I thought they were so bad.  I just didn't give a shit about that stuff." (315)

Oh snap, Eleanor lays it down!  Of course no one is obligated to like everything, but she is pretty much the only one in the book that says she didn't like those bands.  It would be nice if Julian Casablancas tweeted, "Sad @eleanorfriedberger, I love your music :(," and if she replied, "Okay I guess Room on Fire is pretty okay :)."  But I doubt that will happen. 

Vampire Weekend signals the beginning of the end of the book.  There is a special place in my heart for them, as the subject of one of the earliest posts on Flying Houses.  I think that review is a little bit harsh, and I partially disavow it.  And actually I think they have gotten better with each album and believe that they delivered on their early promise.  Nevertheless, I am not the only one who cannot resist poking fun:

Laura Young: "I was there [at the Strokes' Madison Square Garden show in 2011].  I had seats but I traded with somebody so I could be in the pit.  I thought, 'I know I'm a little bit too old for this but I'm going anyway.'  I remember seeing these kids that were fifteen years old.  I was either talking to them or overhearing them and they were saying, 'This is the first time I'm seeing the Strokes.  I listened to them all through elementary school and middle school.'  It was so cool to see them there and so excited.  I don't know, maybe somewhere, somehow, years from now Vampire Weekend will do some kind of reunion show, but I can't imagine young kids being there saying, 'I love Vampire Weekend so much.  I'm so excited about them.  I've been listening to them since elementary school.'  And if they are, they should be punched in the face." (589-590)

The story of their band is one of the most boring in the book, primarily because they all seem to have their lives together.  The reason why I think I hated them so much before is because everything just seemed sort of effortless and easy for them.  I doubt that was true, and the story of how Ezra Koenig lived with Dave Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors and all these other people in this quasi-bohemian house-studio is pretty interesting.

I haven't really talked about Interpol and they are a major part of the book as well.  Paul Banks is quite entertaining in almost everything he says.  Even though he sounds like he's really serious and kind of weird from his lyrics and singing, he is extremely self-effacing and claims to have no talent.

Paul Banks: "...'Like now to college kids, we're old people?!  How the fuck did that happen?'  I don't feel like I look that different but apparently I'm an old guy now.  You know, I'm the guy trying to pick up eighteen-year-olds.  'Hey, kids, want some reefer?'  Just kidding." (575)

The gaping hole in this book is Carlos D.  He is often talked about--many myths are made about him--so his absence as a contributor feels all the more striking.  He maintains an air of mystery.

In almost every other dimension, however, Meet Me in the Bathroom feels very complete and authoritative.  On third thought I don't think I'm going to add it to the Best Books list--but it was definitely the best book I read in the past year.  I'm not sure I'll read it again, but I think everyone should at least read it once.