Monday, June 26, 2017

Brief Thoughts 22

It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

During the 1936 election, a demagogue named "Buzz" Windrip becomes the Democratic candidate for President instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt. With his populist platform; promising a universal basic income, strong law enforcement, and a suppression of the rights of troublesome blacks and Jews, he handily defeats his Republican opponent, Walt Trowbridge. Once in power, he quickly concentrates power into the executive office and reorganizes the United States into a fascist state.

A liberal editor of a small-town newspaper named Doremus Jessup opposes Windrip from the beginning. He finds himself forced to crank up his opposition after hearing about Windrip's advisors murdering a pair of Jewish men in cold blood. His harsh words towards the administration earns him the negative attention of Windrip's brownshirts, called the Minute Men, but he continues his opposition even has the administration becomes more and more tyrannical.

The book that came to mind the most while I read It Can't Happen Here was Jack London's The Iron Heel. I couldn't help but compare and contrast them. They were very similar in plot, but very different in their philosophies, their protagonists, and their intentions. London was a Marxist and The Iron Heel was written mostly to push this philosophy. Lewis is a liberal and It Can't Happen Here was written in response to the rise of fascism in Europe. Ernest Everhard of The Iron Heel is basically a Marty Stu, but Doremus Jessup is far more three dimensional.

Both move towards being an adventure story focused on rebellion to a totalitarian state, but It Can't Happen Here is more of a slow burn and gives a far more realistic story on how a fascist state could come to be in the United States. London's Iron Heel is basically a shadowy cabal of capitalists who manipulate everything from behind the scenes. Buzz Windrip was based on Huey Long, a Louisiana politician who almost ran in the 1936 Presidential election, but was assassinated before he could. Windrip's closest advisors, Lee Sarason and Dewey Haik, seem to be based on Nazi figures like Ernst Rohm, Josef Goebbels, and Hermann Goering. Overall, It Can't Happen Here is just more grounded in reality.

Some may find the beginning of this book a bit dull because it's very topical and dated. There are several figures here, both actual figures and stand-ins for actual ones, who probably won't be recognized by most. Despite that, it still remains entertaining and engaging to read, especially when Windrip takes office. There's a dry sense of humor in recounting Windrip's horseshit speeches and the atrocities committed by his regime. So even 80 years later it remains very readable. Somewhat relevant too. Sales of this book increased after Donald Trump was elected President. Comparing and contrasting Buzz Windrip with Trump could be an essay unto itself, so could my own thoughts on how a totalitarian government would happen in America if it did.

This is a classic for good reason. It's funny, insightful, thought-provoking, very readable, and as relevant as ever. Even its title is evocative. Highly recommended

Buy It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis here.

Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers by Pierre Guyotat  

Where do I even start with this one?

This novel recounts a war between the fictional country of Ectabane and what's implied, but not explicitly stated to be, France. It follows many different characters from both sides. There are battles, slavery, a lot of rape, torture, and churches being destroyed. 

Reading this book is like crawling through mud made of dirt, blood, piss, and semen. There's very little plot. It's more a barrage of horrible vignettes and images. One part that sticks out the most to me is a scene where a young boy in a brothel is forced to have sex with a dog for the entertainment of the brothel's patrons. This was very difficult to get through. 

Guyotat apparently based this novel on his experiences during the Algerian War for Independence. He was a French soldier but ended up siding with the Algerians for which he was imprisoned. A large chunk of this novel apparently came from the hallucinations he experienced while he was in prison. It shows. 

I'm making it sound like I didn't like this novel, and I'm not sure saying I "like" it is the correct way to put it. It's one of the most intense things I've ever read. The prose is amazingly crafted, even in the French to English translation.  That's why it was such a mentally exhausting experience to read. I've heard that Guyotat's Eden Eden Eden is even more intense. I'll read that at some point, but I need sometime to recover from this one. 

This is an incredible book, and it's a shame the English translation is out of print. I hope either a new translation or a re-release of this one will be done in the near future. 

Buy Tomb for 500,000 Soldiers by Pierre Guyotat here.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

GUEST POST: On Willpower by Ann Sterzinger

Hey kids, I've got a special treat for you today! You may know Ann Sterzinger from the reviews of her novels, The Talkative Corpse and NVSQVAM (nowhere), that I've done on here. Recently, Sterzinger decided to branch out and write a book about fitness. Like diet and exercise, not me fitness boot up your ass. 

I'll be reviewing Disaster Fitness: Make Your Demons Do the Work over at Cultured Vultures within the next few weeks. To tide you over while you're waiting with your hand on your dick/pussy, here's Sterzinger on the nature of willpower and how her book will help you direct it. Yes, she's selling you shit, but I like the shit she's selling, so I'm hosting this for her. I'm nice like that. So be sure to check out her book, and maybe you can stop looking like half-melted ice cream.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed below are Ann Sterzinger's and not mine. If they cause you to fly into a homicidal rage, track her down and not me. 

Hi! I’m Ann Sterzinger, a novelist who somehow stays normal sized despite spending eternities sitting on my butt writing. I’m also certifiably mental; I should look like the comic book guy from the Simpsons, right? But nope, I’m 42 and people still won’t take me seriously, because I kind of look like a kid.

At a certain point I realized that if I figure out how I manage to do this, I can tell other people how to do it too. So I eventually managed to quit looking down my nose at self-help authors for long enough to write it all down.

Here’s the basic realization I came to: The most valuable commodity a person has is not time—it’s willpower. Especially if you’re a crazy person who wants to get in shape.

As proud as you are when you manage to white-knuckle it through a workout you hate and a diet that makes you suicidal, teh science mans have announced that you have only got so much willpower to spend each day, and then your brain cracks under the stress.

It makes intuitive sense. Think of how many days go like this for you:

You dragged yourself out of bed to work out this morning, you were nice to your ass-hat coworkers, and you ate a salad for lunch—but that last bullshit project that came in at work was the last straw. Trouble ensues. Cheesecake goes down the hatch. Whiskey shots get pounded.

Are you going to get up early and work out tomorrow? Giant bowl of nope, you say! Fool me once!

But imagine this: what if you could stop pouring that giant chunk of your daily willpower into your fitness plan?

At the risk of pointing out what you think is obvious, one of the major expenditures in your willpower budget is working out. Most people exhaust a lot of their mental resources just getting off the couch, and then pushing through the pain… and then you pig out afterwards, undoing all of your work and then some, because your willpower for the day is gone.

What if you didn’t have to exhaust yourself mentally just getting off the couch? What if you actually looked forward to exercise? Would you work out more often? Would you save that willpower to start your own business after your dumb job is finished every day? Would you escape the horrible loop of exercising so you can pig out, and then punishing yourself for pigging out with exercise?

Welcome to the way out of the cycle. The bad news is that the way out is straight through your personal psychological disaster zones. But the GREAT news is that I’ve written a book that will guide you along this fiery path to the willpower savings you need to improve your life.

DISASTER FITNESS: Make Your Demons Do the Work is a bitchy but compassionate workout motivation program that has been reverse-engineered by a lady who got tired of people snarling “Why are you not fat?” at her for free and decided to get paid to explain why.

DISASTER FITNESS is a fitness program for those of you who are tired of letting your mental exhaustion and whatever the psychiatrist says is wrong with you get the better of your fitness efforts.

Tl;dr version: The craziness of your brain and your life is making you fat. But you can totally use it to get yourself in shape again.

This isn’t a program that will help motivate you. This is a program that will cut your need for motivation.

It isn’t easy for me to bring you this information. I’m embarrassed to write about fitness. There’s so much stupid crap out there about it, for one thing; and more important, pseudo-intellectuals such as myself aren’t supposed to admit they work out anyway. But amongst the many things I’m sick of having to do for free in the Internet age, being sneered at for knowing how to take care of myself is up there.

So it’s time to tell people what I do, and ask them for legal tender in exchange.

I’m not the sanest or most together person in the world—for Christ’s sake, I’m a novelist—so if I can do this, anyone can.

This is the only fitness “secret” that really counts:

All the stuff that bugs you deep inside can become your secret weapon.

Be honest: When you look in the mirror and see a slob that doesn’t look like you, do you blame your mental health? Did you have terrible parents, a tour in Iraq, a chemical imbalance, a trauma?—Do you think it’s pinning you to your couch and your Doritos?

Here’s the truth: you aren’t a victim of your circumstances. You aren’t inherently lazy. The deck isn’t stacked against you. Inertia is not destiny. You have a mighty sword in your hand; you’re just holding it by the wrong end.

Your damage is a hidden superpower.

Somehow my crazy has helped keep me active. That’s an understatement; it makes daily physical activity inescapable. What’s the difference between you and me?

Nothing. Except for one little tweak:

I’m holding the sword by the hilt, and you’re holding it by the blade.

You may think you’re hopelessly depressed, but the numbness that started out as a defense mechanism can be used as a tool. You may feel hopelessly mired in “mental illness”—but each of your “disorders” began as a trick that a healthy brain learns to do to protect itself when it can’t escape bad circumstances. Your brain has developed marvelous coping tools. All you need to do is learn to rewire those tools to get you fit instead of getting you fat.


Cause I’m tired of hearing people complain about a problem they are perfectly capable of solving. I can’t make you a supermodel; I can’t make me a supermodel, either. I’m a girl and I look like Joey Ramone, for Christ’s sake. But we can be strong and healthy, and that’s always hot. And the way is straightforward, believe it or not. (At least compared with most of our other problems.)

As long as you have a problem to solve that is within your control, you’re the luckiest guy/gal in the world. Success beckons, and nobody stands in your way. To paraphrase Yoda, don’t bitch—do.

Give me a few puny shekels and I’ll tell you how to turn it around:

And this book is probably going to get pirated, so go ahead and donate to my patreon to make up for it:
OR donate to me via PayPal:

And watch my Grumpy Book Review of Jeff Gephart’s hilarious and thoughtful Accidental Adulthood. Grumpy Book Reviews is my new video series, in which I tell you what to read besides my stuff, while hopefully providing entertainment, even if it’s unintentional humor:

Check out the Disaster Fitness blog for more fitness advice, plus my personal blog (where Jeff has a guest post! Funny as fuck, as we used to say when I was a screwed-up but still not fat punk rock kid).