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Okay, now it’s book-nerd time.

I just read a couple of books that I really enjoyed, so I’m going to make a big ol’ fuss about them here on my blog.

The first one I’m going to recommend isn’t that deep, but damn if it isn’t some funny stuff. The book in question is The Real Animal House, by Chris Miller, and it is as you would expect, the memoirs of the guy who wrote the script for Animal House, based on his experiences in Alpha Delta Phi fraternity at Dartmouth in the early 1960s. That doesn’t really sound that hot and gripping, so I’m going to link for your reading pleasure, one of his old Lampoon articles dealing with the same topic. The Night Of the Seven Fires is a recounting of the night of his initiation into the fraternity. The book is like that short story above, only longer and better; it’s total Beavis & Butthead humor with puking, cussing, baring of buttocks, and more. If you’re into gross-out humor and are basically totally puerile, then you’ll love this book to bits. Also recommended: Bad News Hughes‘ memoirs, The Diary of Indignities.

My second big recommendation and rave is Hairstyles of the Damned by Joe Meno, which I must say is one of the BEST “coming of age” sort of novels I’ve read in a very long time. Set in the 1990-91 school year, it follows Brian Oswald, a slightly misfit but generally likable kid through his junior year of highschool. Brian and his friends inhabit a realistically portrayed fringe of highschool society. The language, music, mores, and motivations are spot on, if my memory serves me. They cuss with more enthusiasm than skill. They’re randomly cruel to one another for reasons they can’t fully articulate. Similarly, they’re also truly caring when it actually counts. They make mixtapes for each other during an age and an era when the mixtape you make for your best friend really, really mattered. Meno accurately captured an age and a place in time, and if you’re a member of the tail end of Generation X, this book will have you nodding your head, chuckling, groaning, and going, “yeah, it pretty much was like that.”

Probably the other modern “coming of age” novel I’d most recommend would be Douglas Coupland’s Shampoo Planet. One of Coupland’s earlier novels, it follows the naive aspirations and machinations of a small-town community college student who believes way too deeply in self-help, self-promotion, and get-rich-quick. Tyler, the protagonist of Shampoo Planet is hopeful and enthusiastic, though he and his friends love to put on a sort of laconic “Cool Kids” act. He’s the indulged child of divorced parents who has seen too much too early, and has built up a defensive persona that threatens his love life and perhaps his happiness. As the story arcs, spoiled, cocky Tyler gets beaten down a few notches and comes back less whiny, less self-entitled, and much more likable.

In both Hairstyles and Shampoo the protagonists, in the course of growing up, learn to be a bit more genuine, to give of themselves to those who deserve it. You finish up either book and for a minute you think, “yep, that kid’s going to turn out okay” before you remember that you’re rooting for a fictional character.

2 Responses to “Hairstyles of the Damned”

  1. coryglen says:

    Ah, I soon started searching for the Chris Miller byline on every new issue of National Lampoon hoping he had written another story.

    Back when I was reading it, which was quite awhile ago…

  2. […] dad Harry, to Rudy, whose aging nerdiness comes off as surprisingly charming. Like Joe Meno, about whom I raved a while back, Spitz is an American answer to Nick Hornby, minus the overwhelming douchiness. I’m putting a […]

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