So I would like to talk about my book, How to Be Inappropriate, which came out one year ago today. The presentation format I will be use is called pecha-kucha, which is a transliteration of the Japanese word for chit-chat. It was invented by a couple of graphic designers living in Japan—it’s 20 slides, 20 second each—so this will be really quick.
How to Be Inappropriate is a collection of humorous nonfiction, published by Soft Skull/Counterpoint Press. The book includes an assortment of different kinds of writing, which I can break down into three categories: Essays, Journalism, and Memoir pieces. First, let me talk about a few essays in the book.
This is part of the book’s publicity material, a graphic of showing someone how to moon, which accompanies Mooning: A Short Cultural History. In it, I outline the etymology of mooning, famous moons in history, as well as a rather comprehensive list of varieties of moons and mooning experiences.
Any music professors know what this is? Time’s up. It’s a talk box, made famous by Peter Frampton. You stick that tube in your mouth and can make your guitar “talk.” I play guitar, rather horribly, and my essay “The Talk Box Reveries” alternates a history of the talk box and my own thoughts on playing.
This is a promotional whoopee cushion for the book, inspired by another essay, “Fartspottings: Reflections on “High Seriousness” and Poetic Passings of Wind,” originally published in the scholarly peer-reviewed journal Humor and adapted for the book.
So another part of the book are first-person journalism pieces, which have appeared in various publications over the years. Here are a couple.
This is an ad for the Atari 2600 game Journey: Escape. One of the longest pieces in the book is a profile of Todd Rogers, a console video game champion with more than 2,000 high scores, the most by far of any video gamer. One of his most famous is his playing Journey: Escape for 85 hours straight, a human endurance record. He’s a maniac.
Another profile piece was on ApologetiX, a Christian parody band, a cross between Billy Graham meets “Weird” Al Yankovic that plays rock/pop songs with Christian-ized lyrics called “parodeities.” These are buttons the band sells at its concerts—I’ve been to a couple of them. The right one, I Love Apostle Paul, is a parodiety of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock ‘n Roll.”
That’s me after 20 days of extreme indoor tanning. I did bed tanning, spray tanning, often twice a day, in December 2008. The piece was originally published in The Daily Beast, and was inspired by living here in Albany, where our students fake bake, sure, but also our mayor.
One anchor of the book, which keeps it all together, are the memoir pieces. Here are three.
This the view down Crosby Street in Soho, where I first lived in New York in the 90s. The first piece in the book talks about my moving here and finding out my psychotic ex-girlfriend lives right next store.
One of the last memoir pieces in the book is called “Goodbye to All Them,” an imitation in name and spirit of Joan Didion’s “Goodbye to All That.” Both are about leaving New York City. Mine is about leaving New York City and breaking away from often insular and cruel coterie that are New York poets.
I mentioned Joan Didion just then, and I am a fan of her work if you haven’t guess. One principle I have teaching is to use models and imitate them. One of those models I use is Didion’s landmark 1979 memoir-essay “The White Album,” which uses collage, jump-cut, personal source material and reportage around a single period of her life.
One of the go-to assignments I have in many of my classes is “Make Your Own White Album,” a series of prompt-based writing projects prompts that I have students do out of sequence based on the White Album, which they then assemble into a single work. That assignment was collected last year in this Penguin/Tarcher title, Now Write! Nonfiction: Memoir, Journalism, and Creative Nonfiction Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers.
The largest memoir piece, “Garden Path Paragraphs: Variations on Eggs, Faith, Doubt, and Fathering,” a serious-but-also-funny collage essay about the period in my life where I was struggling with self-doubt while also working really hard to become a parent with my wife through the world of in vitro fertilization. The memoir piece started while writing White Album imitations with my students. That’s our oldest daughter, Miriam, who’s now three.
So when you publish your book through a mid-sized press you get a little less say than through an indie a micropress, or obviously self-publishing. This can be a good or bad thing. In my case it was awesome, and we worked with graphic designer Alvaro Villanueva, who designs lots of great covers as well as the McSweeney’s magazine The Believer. Here are a few mock-ups.
These are both inspired by plays the mooning essay. The right also integrate a classic Atari joystick from the Journey: Escape Todd Rogers piece, an image even I thought was a bit much.
On the left is a take-off of The Catcher in the Rye, which figures into one piece. The right is a visual gag. I liked both of these.
On the left is a graphic that involved curbing dogs, which in another piece I complain that people in Williamsburg neglect to do. And on the right was my favorite.
Which eventually became this, the final cover. It’s not my finger, it’s not my pants. It’s Alvaro’s cover made it onto a coolest book covers on The Huffington Post. The whoopee cushion made onto The Onion’s list of most ridiculous swag promotional items. The book reviews have been positive with a couple pans, sold really well, and I am currently at work on my next book. Alvaro Villanueva’s cover of How to Be Inappropriate 17 Coolest Book Covers of 2009), as well as The Book Design Review
How to Be Inappropriate: A Pecha Kucha Presentation
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HOW TO BE