Jan 13

Penn & Teller’s How to Play in Traffic


I’ve always enjoyed Penn & Teller – they’re smart, funny and irreverent. Over the years, I’ve seen them perform on stage three times and have enjoyed seeing them on TV, especially their Showtime series Bullshit! I appreciate their promotion of skepticism and atheism, though I find Penn’s strongly Libertarian views to be a little much at times.

Also, Penn helped make the movie The Aristocrats – if you haven’t seen it, you should (assuming you’re not easily offended).

I should mention a couple of other P&T items that stand out in my mind. The first is a simple bit of trivia – they make an entertaining cameo appearance (as sleazy con-men!) in RUN-DMC’s It’s Tricky video. The second item is their Smoke and Mirrors video game, featuring the mini-game Desert Bus, which requires eight hours of mind-numbing play to win (here’s a gameplay video). It is also the inspiration for the Desert Bus of Hope charity event. Finally, Desert Bus reminds me of the absurdist 50k Racewalker video game. Enjoy!

In terms of books, I’d previously read their Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends and How To Play With Your Food. This book, How To Play in Traffic, is nominally a sequel to How To Play With Your Food and follows a similar format: it’s a series of essays that tell stories, go over tricks you can do or serve as a platform for Penn’s Libertarian rants 🙂 Overall, it’s a quick, highly-entertaining read.

Jan 13

Success – Martin Amis

Success - Martin amis

I was first turned on to Martin Amis via an episode of PBS’s Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason. I had been reading some Margaret Atwood (one of my favorite authors) and saw that she and Amis were featured on this Faith & Reason episode (text transcript and video). I was intrigued by perspectives and personality, so I made a point of checking out some of his writing.

I picked up my first Amis book while on our European trip of 2012. The book was Night Train – a noir detective novel. It was a quick, gritty book and had a pretty dark twist at the end. As a result, my first read of 2013 was a copy of Success that I picked up at a local used book shop. On a related note, I also ended up with this song stuck in my head for way too long.

Like Night Train, Success was a rather grim novel that explored the relationship of two foster brothers. The book is structured as twelve chapters, which map to the months of the year. In each chapter, the brothers provide their differing perspectives on the events at hand as well as historical background. There’s quite a bit of tension that develops over the course of the book, along with many cringe-worthy descriptions and twists.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and will plan to read more Amis going forward. It’ll be interesting to find out if his generally dark world view is as consistent as I’ve encountered in these two books.