Ken Wheaton’s Bacon and Egg Man

Filed under:Authors,Books,Cool,Food,Politics,Reviews — posted by Anwyn on April 11, 2013 @ 11:05 pm

I bought Bacon and Egg Man because I liked Wheaton’s first book, The First Annual Grand Prairie Rabbit Festival, but I bought it thinking I wouldn’t be able to read it for months because law school. I haven’t read anything without a case name or a blog heading in months. Instead, I started it on the plane out for spring break and had it finished before I had to get back on the plane to come home. It is a snappy, hilarious read that brings up serious issues without taking itself any too seriously. In two words: thoughtful and funny. And since it’s well written and doesn’t make me claw my editor’s eyes out of my head, what more do you want?

Wes lives in the northeast corner of what used to be the United States. New York and its surrounding blue-state cohorts have seceded, and in the resulting Federation, original Bloomberg’s original soda ban has led to the illegality of fat and sugar and basically everything that tastes good. The people eat tofu and vegetables and visit the doctor by mandate to have their body fat monitored. Strangely, this has not stopped people from dying of heart attacks or cancer, but nobody seems to grasp the implications of that. Wes lives the life of an average guy who works a job, makes a living at it, and keeps to himself. But he’s a drug dealer and a user—not only does he get bacon, eggs, real milk and butter, ribeyes, sausage, and yes, soda for his clients, he eats them himself, cooking them up in a black cast-iron skillet (whose appearance, all by itself, won my heart in the first chapter). And soon he gets caught.

Wheaton has a positive gift for loading a lot of entertaining, detailed exposition into a short stretch that doesn’t weary because it doesn’t feel like lengthy or unnecessary narration. As in his first book, we are introduced to the characters swiftly, but in a perfect medium—we’re not plunged directly into the middle of unfamiliar action but not subjected to a tedious process of setting the stage. From there, he scatters details that round out the future vision he’s created, note-perfectly hilarious. He’s like a Sherlock Holmes in that when I read his projection of the future, I thought, “Of COURSE that’s the way it’s going to go, based on the trends we have now,” but I wouldn’t have thought of it myself. (Holmes used to get irritated with Watson for saying how simple things were once Holmes explained them.) In that sense, he’s also like a good mystery writer, since in a mystery, when you find out who the perp is, you should say “OF COURSE,” but you shouldn’t have seen it coming too easily.

Here, we’re left in no doubt as to who the villains are up front. The scenario of the government taking away stuff that’s good, and that in moderation is quite good for us, theoretically for our own good, is all too believable. (And, as a law student, I also find completely believable the cops’ ever-spiraling obligations to arestees as they’re pointing weapons at them. “We are considering firing upon you. This shot is not designed to be lethal, but it will hurt. In some cases, the charge has proven lethal. The government is not responsible for any damages to your person or property. Do you understand this?” I was dying laughing, imagining the Miranda-style case law that generated requirements like this.) Honestly, as I read this book, I was kind of amazed America ever came back from Prohibition. But at the same time, life goes on. The cops do their jobs; there is not an uprising brewing over these laws; it’s a dreary institutional utopia instead of either a smooth façade with sinister underpinnings or a hotbed of seething chaos waiting to explode. Again: all grimly believable. People can get used to a lot, if they have to.

I won’t get into any more of the plot, but there is a girl (and you know I’m a sucker for a love story), and there is a villain with a face (as opposed to the oppress-you-for-your-good government), and there is a back story. And both the girl story and the back story are awesome. As a reader, my highest respect is reserved for authors who both have insight into human nature and can paint it accurately and entertainingly, and both the girl story and the back story are chock full of the reality of human nature without being maudlin. And, even more difficult to pull off, both the girl story and the back story are woven into the larger story seamlessly. And the whole fabric is light enough to build a nice warm blanket of story that makes you laugh and think, not a smothery coat of moralizing that makes you squirm and roll your eyes. (Like my metaphors might be doing now. I ain’t no novelist.) And there’s a twist—a lovely twist that I saw coming a page before it happened. (And that is not either a compliment or an insult to Ken Wheaton; it’s a compliment to myself. I am an author’s and a screenwriter’s dream in that I never see anything coming, ever. So the fact that I saw it one page ahead means I’m ever so slowly getting smarter as I age.)

There are only three things about the book that I didn’t think worked just right. First, one of the characters—well, see here how Wheaton himself describes him. But this is a matter of taste. I’m a bit uncomfortable with this kind of character, but I can distinguish him, at least, from a character that invades my mind and makes me think “garbage in, garbage out” and want to stop reading. This guy is a lighthearted blowhard that it’s easy for me not to take too seriously, so I got used to him quickly.

Second, what’s left of the United States outside the Federation suffers under none of these food restrictions, which is supposed to be a good thing, right? But the people are described as fat—really fat. As I was reading it, I shrugged that off, thinking, “He just threw that in for ‘balance,’” since my impression from his blog is that he’s more libertarian than anything else and therefore not in favor of the kind of restrictions he’s talking about. And I know he loves proper food. But it stuck with me that this portrayal really just flatly undermined the larger point. The point seems to be that regulations like this won’t stop people from being unhealthy in some form or other and certainly won’t stop them from dying of natural causes at young ages, and therefore they certainly aren’t worth restricting people’s freedom so greatly. But if everybody else is depicted as fat and unattractive, then it makes the restrictions look a bit more desirable, doesn’t it?

Third, and I don’t know if this is a matter of taste or of the “rules,” whatever they are, of novel construction, but I felt it in Rabbit Festival too—the ends of both books seem rushed. In each, I’d have liked more information about how things all shook out and a little more depth of feeling from each of several characters (which I know from earlier parts of the book they’re totally capable of). But the wrap-up is too fast for me, and I don’t see a need to whiz on to The End quite so quickly.

I can’t tell you every single thing I liked, loved, and related to in this book, or else I’d spill the whole plot and write a book myself in detailing them. But as a, shall we say, well rounded girl who grew up on bacon, biscuits, and gravy and whose cast iron skillets are the best things in her kitchen, I like that Ken Wheaton can write about the things he does in the way he does without either schmaltzy nostalgia or petty resentfulness. His characters don’t have a chip on their shoulders that they spend the books magically getting rid of; they’re just people struggling with their everyday lives, in this case seen through a prism of somewhat fantastic events. And one more thing I have to thank him for: While I have done ribeye steaks in my cast iron for years, throwing half a stick of butter in at the very end was a new idea to me. But not for long. Yum!

Not a Bad Legend for a Lawyer to Live Up To

Filed under:Authors,Books,Law School — posted by Anwyn on April 21, 2011 @ 9:13 pm

“He’d do you down fast enough, but he wouldn’t let you down.”

–Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?

But He Tries to Be a Good Person in Other Aspects of His Life

Filed under:Authors,Jerks,Priorities,Wacky Oregon — posted by Anwyn on June 19, 2009 @ 10:03 am

So that gives him a pass on calling soccer moms “brainless” and claiming people who live in the suburbs have “little to do and everywhere to drive.” Guess those soccer moms should’ve gotten off the highway and let him pass on his important business of, one hopes, leaving the state as quickly as possible.

His most recent story follows 17-year-old James Hoff through his troubling junior year of high school. He rants and raves about environmentalism and how we are all killing ourselves with our rolling smog machines. As he rages against society and capitalism, he yearns for the love of his ex-girlfriend Sadie. James’ soft side is slowly revealed in between his humorous rants.

One day after a mall visit he writes, “I love the rumor that the air in the malls is oxygen enriched to make you stupid and make you buy stuff. Why are you there if you’re not stupid and going to buy stuff?”

Soccer moms: Brainless. Mall shoppers: Stupid. Check-check.

As Nelson worked to craft the character and came up with the book’s unique narrative style (it is told as a series of journal entries, school essays and internet postings) he began to relate to his angry teenage character.

“The kind of stuff the guy does in the book is the stuff I did in high school,” he said. “I really felt like I was that kid. I was really in his brain.”

You mean, the author who thinks people who don’t live as he does are stupid can relate to a fictional teenager who thinks people who live the way he doesn’t want to are stupid? Pretty profound, you pretentious L.A. jerk.

Quote of Every Woman’s Whole Life

Filed under:Authors,Priorities — posted by Anwyn on January 10, 2009 @ 2:07 pm

“There isn’t one man in ten million that’s worth breaking your heart over.”

–Harriet Vane Wimsey in Dorothy Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon. Easy for her to say. And with the object/person confusion, too. Thanks for the tip, Harriet!

My Day Is Brightened

Filed under:Authors,Cool,Not Cool — posted by Anwyn on September 30, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

…by learning that P.J. O’Rourke believes in God. He also has a malignant hemorrhoid, learning of which does not brighten my day. I hope he soon recovers the structural integrity of his nethers.

H/t Anne the Lifepundit.

Orson Scott Card: Rowling’s “Greedy, Evil-Witch Behavior”

Filed under:Authors,Cool — posted by Anwyn on May 2, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

Sweet. Big-time author echos my points about Rowling and pulls no punches doing it: 1) That Steven Vander Ark isn’t violating her copyright, no, that is for authors like Rowling herself to do in lifting plots and language from other authors; that nobody will refrain from buying Rowling’s Potter encyclopedia even if they already own Vander Ark’s, and 2) That her claim that Dumbledore’s gay would have had a lot more authenticity put into the actual books, except that, gee, she just wouldn’t have made as much gosh-darn money if she’d said it there. Oh and also, she’s only doing this because she craves literary respectability that was denied her by all the Potter sneerers out there:

Rowling has nowhere to go and nothing to do now that the Harry Potter series is over. After all her literary borrowing, she shot her wad and she’s flailing about trying to come up with something to do that means anything.

Moreover, she is desperate for literary respectability. Even though she made more money than the queen or Oprah Winfrey in some years, she had to see her books pushed off the bestseller lists and consigned to a special “children’s book” list. Litterateurs sneer at her work as a kind of subliterature, not really worth discussing.

It makes her insane. The money wasn’t enough. She wants to be treated with respect.

At the same time, she’s also surrounded by people whose primary function is to suck up to her. No doubt some of them were saying to her, “It’s wrong for these other people to be exploiting what you created to make money for themselves.”

She let herself be talked into being outraged over a perfectly normal publishing activity, one that she had actually made use of herself during its web incarnation.

Now she is suing somebody who has devoted years to promoting her work and making no money from his efforts, which actually helped her make some of her bazillions of dollars.

Wow. Read the whole thing, because wow. I think I finally need to go pick up a copy of Ender’s Game right now.

H/t Petitedov, who found it in Ace’s headlines.

Ahead of His Time

Filed under:Authors,Blogging,Cool — posted by Anwyn on April 29, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

“There are to be forty interlocking committees sitting every day and they’ve got a wonderful gadget–I was shown the model last time I was in town–by which the findings of each committee print themselves off in their own little compartment on the Analytical Notice-Board every half hour. Then, that report slides itself into the right position where it’s connected up by little arrows with all the relevant parts of the other reports. A glance at the Board shows you the policy of the whole Institue actually taking shape under your own eyes. There’ll be a staff of at least twenty experts at the top of the building working this Notice Board in a room rather like the Tube control rooms. It’s a marvellous gadget. The different kinds of business all come out in the Board in different coloured lights. It must have cost half a million. They call it a Pragmatometer.”

–C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

All the relevant parts connected to all the other relevant parts by little … links. The major difference, of course, is that the Notice Board was to be run by an Institute whose purpose was to manipulate, gull, lull, and damn the population, while the internet really is the embodiment of the old sixties radical slogan: Power to the people. When anybody net-savvy can link and pipe up their opinion, you really can see the views of vast swaths of people taking shape “under your own eyes.” It’s a marvellous gadget indeed.

Rowling: It’s Only “Legitimate Creative Activities” When You Don’t Earn Royalties

Filed under:Authors,Not Cool — posted by Anwyn on February 29, 2008 @ 6:59 am

J.K. Rowling sues publisher RDR Books and “feels betrayed” by Harry Potter Lexicon founder Steven Vander Ark because they intend to publish a print version of the same name. Seems Rowling was “accepting” of sites such as the HP Lexicon and others while they were thousands of dollars’ worth of excellent free marketing for her books but not so much now that they plan to publish a book that people will have to, you know, buy with money.

Rowling said she was especially irked that the site’s owner and the lexicon’s would-be publisher, RDR Books, continued to insist that her acceptance of free, fan-based Web sites justified the efforts.

“I am deeply troubled by the portrayal of my efforts to protect and preserve the copyrights I have been granted in the Harry Potter books,” she wrote in court papers filed Wednesday in a lawsuit she brought against the small Muskegon, Mich., publisher.

She said she intends to publish her own definitive Harry Potter encyclopedia.

“If RDR’s position is accepted, it will undoubtedly have a significant, negative impact on the freedoms enjoyed by genuine fans on the Internet,” she said. “Authors everywhere will be forced to protect their creations much more rigorously, which could mean denying well-meaning fans permission to pursue legitimate creative activities.”

Poppycock. Is there a copyright violation in the intended work, or is there not? If there is, then for sure there is a copyright violation in the web site, which therefore should have been shut down by legal force years ago. Something doesn’t comprise “legitimate creative activities” when free (and free marketing) on the web but amount to copyright violation only when there are royalties involved. That she would begin to object only when royalties were involved is only too human-nature obvious. And she has a somewhat overblown concept of authors’ rights if she expects to be able to trample what even she describes as “legitimate” work in the name of preventing outright copyright violation.

Is there a copyright violation? I don’t know (insert I Am Not a Lawyer boilerplate here). But on the surface it seems that if there is, then that standard would surely apply to sites like TheOneRing.net and the books I helped create based on that site. So what if Rowling plans to publish her own encyclopedia? Reference material can be copyrighted but surely not the right to create reference material. Suddenly half of academia would be out of business. Fiction utilizing the characters is different, but a publisher would have to be crazy to put any of that (mostly) swill into print for cash. And nobody really believes that upon publication of Rowling’s own encyclopedia, anybody would say “Oh, well, I already bought Vander Ark’s website in print form, so I don’t really need the definitive word from the author herself,” do they?

She added: “I find it devastating to contemplate the possibility of such a severe alteration of author-fan relations.”

Which is just a sentimental (or, in the British, treacly) way of saying “Our relations will be lovely so long as you do nothing that irritates me, whether it’s actually illegal or not.” Nice.

Slam

Filed under:Authors,Heh — posted by Anwyn on January 9, 2008 @ 2:55 pm

“As has so often happened in the great crises of her history, France produced a man.”

–Winston S. Churchill, speaking of Joseph Dupleix, in The Age of Revolution

I Have Only One Word for You, Ms. Rowling

Filed under:Authors — posted by Anwyn on December 30, 2007 @ 11:18 pm

Resist.

For Real?

Filed under:Authors,Blogging,Cool — posted by Anwyn on October 24, 2007 @ 9:55 am

Man. I procrastinate reading Lileks for a few days, and this is what I miss:

… young idiots [drove] by and [shouted] obscenities at everyone … the gentleman at the next table whipped out a long thin bamboo tube and shot what appeared to be a sharp dart into the rear right wheel of the vehicle … the POP of the tire’s explosion was followed by two more, each punctuated by a sharp concise exhalation from the man at the next table … the vehicle had come to a stop, its driver too stunned to proceed, and by the time the driver regained his composure the fellow had opened the door and removed he youth who had shouted the obscenities to the ladies. He marched the youth back, and with the slightest pressure on his upper ear – a gesture that seemed to inflict a great deal of discomfort – he compelled the youth to apologize to the ladies, and empty his pockets to pay for the meal he had sullied with his vulgarities. Then he dispatched him with a kick on the seat of his trousers, but you could tell it was intended more for show than the actual infliction of injury. We rose in a round of applause, and thereafter amused ourselves watching the youths push their vehicle off to the side of the road. Shouts of “Get a horse” and “that’s right, lads, get your back into it” were laughingly proffered.

I hope Mr. Lileks forgives me for reprinting the heart of his story, but I’ve started three emails to him and abandoned them all as too fatuous, basically asking: “Are you pulling our legs?” So I guess I will just post the fatuousness here on the blog for all to see, instead.

Is he or isn’t he? He tells the story with what passes on the web for a straight face and gives no indication that he’s joking. But my basic experience of modern life inclines me to believe this is so unfathomably unlikely that I’m left … flummoxed. Not to mention that the “youths,” morons or not, would have had a good case of destruction of property to take to the police. Real or Not?

Verdict: Consult the laws of physics, Anwyn, you credulous girly girl. I’m going to credit it to Lileks having an Owl Creek Bridge moment, then.

Rowling: Dumbledore’s Gay

Filed under:Authors,Children's Books,Church of Liberalism — posted by Anwyn on October 19, 2007 @ 9:41 pm

Because she really is a super-cool progressive, see, so she’ll make the most beloved character in a generation of literature retroactively gay and hope nobody notices that if she’d actually said so in the books, she wouldn’t have sold nearly as many.

Oh well. The fact that she didn’t say so in the books means I can just pretend it didn’t happen. If I can do it with three whole Star Wars films I can certainly do it with the after-market remarks of the richest woman in the world.

Via the headlines of the Beta Heartbreaker.

Okay, Now I May Stop Reading

Filed under:Authors,Church of Liberalism,Need a Good Editor?,Priorities,Television — posted by Anwyn on October 17, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t read many novels. The one that is the subject of this post happened to catch my eye at Costco when I was in the mood to buy books. That line of florid dreck didn’t stop me from reading, but this might: Another of the protagonists says to her niece, on the subject of “What if Indians steal our food?” (the book is set during a wagon-train prairie crossing): “If you were hungry and someone had a picnic in your yard, wouldn’t you want to join them?”

Are you kidding me with that garbage, Ms. Kirkpatrick? And here I thought only Sesame Street was that addled. I can’t find a clip, but the sketch that caused my son and me to cease watching Sesame Street involved Baby Bear becoming irritated that Goldilocks always took his porridge, setting out to rewrite the tale so that she would take somebody else’s porridge, and eventually having a friend tell him he should re-write it so that there was a designated Goldilocks bowl waiting for her when she got there.

Teaching children that stealing’s okay because it’s always motivated by need and that in fact the victims should feel guilty about this need? Oh, and that stealing is “joining?” No thanks.


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace