Why only five, you ask? I figured you’d see “book” and run screaming for your X-box, and alas, there’s not a graphic novel to be found. Still, put down the Clearasil, remove your cock from last night’s roast, and for once, spend your time wisely while not in the company of women:
1. Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film by Jimmy McDonough
No book proved to be more entertaining all year than this exhaustive account of a genuine American hero – a man who not only elevated schlock tohigh art, but devoutly worshipped one of nature’s most magnificent creations: the female breast. The anecdotes are delightfully nasty, the prose a rough-and-tumble shotgun style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler, and the accounts of truly independent filmmaking hilarious and yes, even a little sad. Perhaps I didn’t need to know that Roger Ebert received a killer blowjob while relaxing poolside, but dammit, I’ll never forget it. I rarely laugh at anything these days – let alone out loud – but this book had me roaring with delight. And Russ, we miss you more than ever.
2. Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling and a World on the Brink by David Margolick
History at its finest: illuminating, insightful, and told with the dramatic flair of fiction. Not only a blow-by-blow account of two of the 20th century’s most important bouts (the 1936 upset victory by Schmeling and the 1938 massacre rematch won by Louis), but an evocative snapshot of the times, and how boxing, especially between a black man and a white German, was far more than a sport. We get biography, sociology, and a disturbing portrait of the Nazi regime itself, and how Hitler tried to use Schmeling as a symbol, only to find that he cleverly played both sides against the middle. In an age where professional sports have little value outside of a fantasy league, it is important to remember that a few moments in the squared circle once had the power to change lives.
3. Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer by Scott Eyman
A true kingpin and historical figure, Mayer helped change the art form forever, in spite of his vanity, nastiness, and colossal ego. Okay, because of them. At once a visionary and an embarrassing prude, Mayer helped build MGM into the world’s greatest studio, complete where “more stars than there are in heaven.” With his stable of fresh talent and commitment to “noble filmmaking,” Mayer became the first executive to earn $1 million a year in 1936. Needless to say, there’s gossip galore, none better than the love/hate relationship between L.B. and wunderkind Irving G. Thalberg. We visit the sets, the casting couches, backroom deals, and arranged marriages, and author Eyman never lets us forget that one man once ran the whole show; firmly, and with an iron hand.
4. Superstud: or How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin by Paul Feig
If you’ve ever spent your weekend masturbating or pining for a chick way out of your league, this book will hit you right where it hurts. But far from a tale of woe, Feig’s memoir reveals that in the end, few understand life as deeply as the pathetic nerd who couldn’t get laid in a whorehouse. At least that’s what I keep repeating before crying myself to sleep. It’s all here – embarrassing parents, terrible wardrobe choices, excruciating dates, and that one girl who will never, ever be more than “just a friend.” We’ve all been here, and some just might never leave. And remember, if you ever keep a diary as a teenager, burn the fucking thing as soon as possible.
5. Mencken: The American Iconoclast by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers
I’ve now read three biographies of my personal hero, and this is by far the definitive account. Rodgers charts the expected brilliance, wit, and lust for life (beer meant more to him than most human beings), but she never shies away from the contradictions: Mencken’s brutal stubbornness regarding Germany (and subsequent refusal to condemn Hitler, even as the bodies piled up), his racial insensitivity (despite promoting black authors and standing tall – at great personal risk – against lynching), and his sweet, romantic side (despite believing marriage to be the death of hope). In many ways, Rodgers divides Mencken into distinct “eras” and while no journalist/critic had more impact on the culture during the early decades of the 20th century, he became a sad, cranky old goat from the 1930s until his death in 1956. And yet, I love the bad boy of Baltimore more than ever, and can only imagine what he’d say about our current embrace of the ridiculous.