08/04/2009 03:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Shelf Talker: Disco, Beer and Rubix Cubes

Welcome back to the Shelf Talker, a not-so-regular look at books, authors and reading. We've been gone for a little while and deserve your admonishments and downward glances. Can we kiss and make up? And offer you this new way of reading the bibliophilic crosswinds? Stick your head out the backseat window and see.

Reading in the Years.

Our local library recently alerted us to Shelf Discovery: Teenage Classics We Never Stopped Reading a paean to the work of Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume and a certain generation's awkward stage . We've also got it on marginal authority that FOTST Wendy McClure (author of the 2005 memoir I'm Not the New Me) has a tale of her obsession with Laura Ingalls Wilder coming out next year. Slate's magazine's critic at large Stephen Metcalf says he's working on a book about the 1980s. Entertainment journalist Susannah Gora already pounding away on one about Brat Pack movies. Earlier this summer, Oakland writer Kaya Oakes scuffed up the nostalgia with the publication of Slanted and Enchanted: The Evolution of Indie Culture. The decade of Mr. T and rhinestone gloves provided an important counterweight to the concurrent boom in college radio, zine making and hair combed in your eyes, Oakes informs us. Too true. Without the acid wash of then, there would be no skinny denim of now.

TST's of a triply-divided mind about all of this.

Mind #1: The 80s were the decade of our own youth and have held our selfish fascination since. Through those misty eyes our Avalon swims into view outfitted with pink neon and an Atari 2600.

Mind #2: We've read enough encomiums to The Moon Landing, Haight-Ashbury and 1968 to satiate us until 2068. It's time for other generation (mine! mine!) to be pawed over like the last Barbie Dream House for sale on December 24th.

Mind #3: Let's call a Rubix Cube a Rubix Cube. Few books about "an important moment in a generation's history" are written with clear eye and unswooned heart. What we're really talking about is generational chuvanism, fun, insular, a hymn whispered directly into the choir's ear. Which is fine but fine mostly as whipped cream not wheat grass juice. Selfless-high-mindedness will find little purchase here anymore than my latest magnum opus "Guinness and Gifilte Fish: The Unsung Genius of Short Jews with Irish First Names" will.

Bookered and Rookered:

Several of our favorite literary tweeters alerted us to the release of the nominees for the Man Booker Prize, the UK's equivalent of the Best Book Oscar. The "longlist" in circulation right now contains a dozen novels, which then get narrowed to five, then down to one. TST's favorite author Roddy Doyle grabbed the award for his novel Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha in 1993. We haven't felt in the literary know since.

Though we love lists/awards/hall-of-fames of all variety (the guidance they give to the distracted and overwhelmed reader like, eh, somebody, is invaluable), we want hide under the sofa when they land in our laps. Invariably, our marry band of twitter friends will follow up the announcement "Booker Nominees Announced!" with an innocent inquiry "How many have you read?"

It is not an innocent inquiry. Our answer is zero. Always zero. Perhaps fewer than zero. Perhaps once we read a few of the nominees and forgot them along with their previous three novels and our own middle name.

We therefore humbly request anyone who answers that question with a positive integer, kindly rephrase:. "How many do you have no earthly intention of reading?" will do. Or "How many will you feel guilty not reading but ok watching old Family Ties episodes instead?" Or simply repackage the nominees list from five years ago and see how many we've read since. That way we'll all be caught up, with luck at our side, sometime around never.

Read, Chug, Repeat:

TST's been off the sauce for over a decade now but oh how we love the Brews & Books blog (tagline: "Giddy about Reading. Serious About Drinking") and its rundown of suds named after books and authors. Thomas Hardy's Ale? The Grapes of Cask? The wit and froth inspired us to brew a couple of our own.

Infinite Yeast: A very long, very heavy, very worth-it beer that has its drinker continually asking "Is it a beer or just a societal construction of one?" Each bottle's Underside contains a label of supplemental footnotes.

Silence of the Lambics: A Belgian fruit beer with hints of chianti and fava beans.

Perhaps you can do better? Tell us so.


There are few things TST enjoys more than a book whose physical presence underlines its meaning. The heft of DeLillo's Underworld mirrors the grand, forbidding sweep of the 20th century his story captures. The over-saturated yellow smiley face of The Watchmen hints at the naive artifice of Thatcher's Britain the novel spends a devastating 416 pages tearing apart. And this week's recommended book New York in the 70s by photographer Allen Tannenbaum does not just embody the desperate exuberance of that period of the city's history in gorgeous black and white. Its smooth, rusted cover is a perfect surface on which to snort lines of coke.

TST was too young and Midwestern to appreciate this era which birthed punk rock, hip-hop, disco, the phrase "downtown arts scene", "Son of Sam" and a burning Bronx. But fascination has held since our virgin screening of "Wild Style" over a decade ago. So much so that, at the book party for NYIT70s last month, we held back an urge to spray paint "Cold Krush" on the wall next to the coat check and instead settled for shaking hands with the Cowboy from the Village People instead.

In the spirit of the evening, and perhaps the decade, TST absconded with a copy of New York in the 70s down the front of his pants. No one noticed and we wish they had as we had a stinging bit of flirtation all lined up.

"Searching for memories are you?"

Kevin Smokler is the CEO of Send tips, thoughts and flung tomatoes to Or follow along on Twitter.