Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters, by John Waters
I love John Waters so much but I feel like there's so much of his work that I've yet to experience. I really need to get serious about seeing more of his movies (especially the ones starring Divine) but I made a tiny dent recently in his oeuvre by reading Crackpot, my first of several of his books. Crackpot was originally released in 1986, but the copy I read had a few updates made as recently as 2003. It still feels a little outdated and there were a lot of pop culture references that went completely over my head (I was born in 1985), but I would listen to Waters talk about almost anything. He's hilariously irreverent and cranky when discussing everything from fashion to death row inmates to celebrity, and surprisingly levelheaded as well—in an essay titled "If I Were President," Waters replies to the question of "what would you outlaw" with "guns and New Age crystals" making it even more painfully obvious that we elected the wrong celebrity President.
Occasionally I am so charmed by the author of a memoir or essay collection that I fantasize about becoming their real life friend—I have a running list in my head that includes Samantha Irby (ironically?), Lindy West, Phoebe Robinson, Mara Altman and now Michael Arceneaux. Arceneaux’s collection of essays is mostly about his life as a gay, black man from Houston—none of which I can really relate to personally, but one of the greatest joys of reading is the luxury of being able to dive into someone else’s experience for a brief time.
This book has a strange structure and is oddly written at times, but the story of Martin Couney, a doctor of questionable provenance that ended up saving an estimated 7,000 premature babies by exhibiting them in sideshow-type pavilions at World’s Fairs and Coney Island is fascinating material. Not much is known about Couney’s life—he changed his name several times and wasn’t respected in the medical community. It’s hard to even grasp that there was time in the not-so-distant past that premature babies were seen as lost causes and incubators weren’t widely used or trusted. That countless people and their thousands of descendants are alive today because of this one extraordinary man and his crazy “baby ovens” just proves that the truth is often times stranger than fiction.
Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an America Obsession, by Alice Bolin
I should have paid more attention to the negative reviews of this book by people who felt misled by the title, since I ended up becoming one of them. Dead Girls isn’t so much about the dead girl trope in TV and movies as it is a rambling book comprising disjointed essays on LA, Joan Didion and the author’s various struggles with depression, shitty roommates and rootlessness. When Bolin does discuss dead girls the book briefly lives up to its promise, but unfortunately not for long.
I had already read (and loved) Dreamland—also about the opiate epidemic—so I was concerned that I wouldn’t find much new information in Dopesick. Thankfully this was untrue, and Dopesick was an informative and highly readable account of how we got to where we are now, and who is to blame for the crisis (pretty much everyone). If you’re not infuriated and heartbroken after you read this book, then you’re not paying attention, and I think this should be required reading for every American.