Monday, April 23, 2007

Authors and Their Assholes

Eric Spitznagel is an old friend of mine I've written about on here before. He's a contributing editor for The Believer magazine and the Website editor for Monkeybicycle, and his journalism has appeared in Playboy, McSweeney's,, Harper's, and numerous other places of note. We go way back to a time when we studied together under amazing Royal Shakespear Company actors in Oxford, England, and then spent a few years driving each other crazy writing and directing really horrendously bad black box theatre in crack neighborhoods in Chicago, IL. Our careers have run in odd parallel, with both of us moving into journalism and then books (he's the author of six). In fact, he has a recent book called Fast Forward that came out around the same time as mine. It's a bit different in subject matter, of course.

Anyway, Eric maintains a blog called Vonnegut's Asshole, the name referring to the famous asterisk that Kurt used to represent his anus in Breakfast of Champions. As Eric writes:

"Vonnegut's asshole had a profound effect on me as a kid. (There's really no way of writing that sentence without it sounding a little odd.) I was 10 or 11 when I first read Breakfast of Champions, and it was the first book that I picked out on my own. I can still vividly recall the day when I got to the page with Vonnegut's asshole drawing. I was in school, reading the book over a plate of cold tater tots during lunch, and I guess I laughed a little too loud. My teacher at the time - a humorless old bastard named Mr. Spearing - walked over and glanced at my book. When he saw the asshole drawing, he was livid. 'That is not funny at all,' he screamed at me. 'It's just childish and immature! It's absolutely disgusting!' He ripped the book out of my hands and refused to let me read it in school again. He spoke with my parents about it later and called the book "dangerous." I couldn't wrap my head around that. Really? A book could be dangerous just because one of the pages had an asterisk that kinda resembled an asshole? That was all it took? It was a life-changing moment for me. That's when I realized just how powerful humor - even childish, immature humor - could really be. If an asshole illustration is enough to make you howl in protest, it speaks volumes about your own insecurities. If you don't like something, just don't look at it. Don't read it. But if an idea makes you want to burn a book or snatch it out of a child's hands and hide it where nobody (least of all you) can ever see it again, it obviously touched a nerve."

So, in memory of the great man's life and in honor of his passing, Eric is hosting a series called "Authors and their Assholes," in which he invites notable writers to contribute their own artfully rendered anuses. So far, he's had such prestigious personages as This America Life commentator Sandra Tsing Loh, Other magazine publisher Charlie Anders, best selling author Brad Listi, and actress and author Kimberlee Auerbach.Today, day eight, Sean Williams ably represents the science fiction field with a diagram of his posterior parts. Trust me when I say you've got to see this to believe it. I think Vonnegut would be proud.


Anonymous said...

That is one of the most heartening things I've seen on the internet; I know what Eric means - I found that innocent little asterisk a little startling when I first read Breakfast Of Champions, too, although the drawing of the beaver runs it a close second.
I didn't know you studied under RSC actors. Who?

Lou Anders said...

Diana Quick and Dorothy Tutin, among others. David Susset came by and did an amazing one-day workshop though that I'll never forget. It was an outfit called the British American Drama Academy - a play on RADA of course. I did a summer in Oxford then got a partial scholarship to do a year in London.

Eric Spitznagel said...

Thanks for the kind words, Lou. And in case any of your readers are interested, I asked Lou to contribute to the a**hole gallery, but he has yet to send me anything. He did suggest that a certain critic (who shall remain nameless) might best represent his anus. Perhaps wisely, he opted against making such an obvious comparison.

Your comment about our brief collaboration writing one-act plays in Chicago made me wistful and sentimental. As I recall, one of the characters was played by a guy in a banana costume. Was that why we never got an audience, or was it the wino passed out in a pool of his own urine near the theater's front door?

Lou Anders said...

I suspect it was a subtle combination of the two. What a bitter disappointment the banana was. But any theatre where you have to arrange escorts for the female actors just to get them the block to the L-train safely can't bode well for your hopes of mass audience.