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Weekly Alibi Speed Reader

By Blake de Pastino, Jessica English, Stephen Ausherman, Brendan Doherty

AUGUST 10, 1998: 

Too Much Coffee Man's Guide for the Perplexed
by Shannon Wheeler (Dark Horse Comics, paper, $15.95)

After years of steeping, "Too Much Coffee Man" has come into its own. What began in 1991 as a witty but sometimes flavorless toon has percolated into something fuller, richer, more satisfying. Want a taste? Then look no further than "TMCM's" very own volume, Too Much Coffee Man's Guide for the Perplexed. Through selected episodes of his seven-year career, you can watch TMCM evolve from a fat, hapless guy in a funny suit into an adventurer, a social commentator and, ultimately, an utter embodiment of modern anxiety. Within the frames of this finely drawn toon, our hero explores poverty, politics, time travel, boredom, alien invasion and existential angst, all the while staring bug-eyed into the abyss and pointing the way with a nicotine-stained finger. Better than a superhero, TMCM is a regular guy, only more so--a java-slurping, cig-sucking shmoe with nothing better to do than worry, suppose and worry some more. That takes a lot of guts. I'd lay money on him over Spider-Man any day. (BdeP)

Memories of My Father Watching TV
by Curtis White (Dalkey Archive Press, paper, $12.50)

Admittedly, the title sounds like another supermarket memoir filled with blame and self-loathing. Yeah, it's depressing; Memories of My Father Watching TV is about the patriarch of a 1950s nuclear family who plops his butt on the couch every night, guzzling booze and ignoring his attention-starved kids. But it's surprisingly one of the most gut-bustingly hilarious novels that I've read all year. Also having been raised on TV, I have an incredibly short attention span, which is spared by Curtis White's interruption of his own prose with voice overs, play-by-plays of old television shows, theme songs, doodles and stills from the movie The Third Man. And his style actually works (without being just plain annoying) in portraying the distance between a son and a father, whose perception of the world and themselves is shaped entirely by game shows and episodes of Highway Patrol, Maverick and Combat. Still, Memories is even more fascinating as a study of the way television has become a part of the American family since it first came to be the centerpiece of the living room in the 1950s. Besides, it's almost as entertaining as Must See TV. As White writes in the novel: "If Robert Stack sat on your face, you couldn't be happier." (JE)

Surfing San Onofre to Point Dume: 1936-1942
by Don James (Chronicle, cloth, $24.95)

Long before the Hawaiian sport of kings became a $1.35 billion industry, surfing was an experience. It was about "the sensation of skimming down the face of a chilly breaking wave at sunrise, with a gentle off- shore Santa Ana wind delivering the scent of distant orange groves." It was also about living off lobster and abalone bake picnics, Balboa beer in quart-size bottles and 90-pound boards that lacked fins. This way of life is documented in the 100 photographs salvaged from the forgotten scrapbooks of surfing photographer Don James. He and his friends lived in an Eden on the Hollywood fringe and created beach culture decades before surf exploitation movies like Beach Blanket Bingo. While the photographs span only six years, the stories behind them incorporate entire lifetimes, with footnotes dating back to the early '20s. Though James died peacefully just days after the short run edition of his book came out in 1996, the lifestyle and the sport he helped cultivate live on. (SA)

Quite A Year for Plums
by Bailey White (Knopf, cloth, $22)

Meet the peculiar people of a small town in south Georgia: Roger, the studious and serious peanut pathologist who is the unwitting object of the fancy of half the women in town, and Louise, Roger's ex-mother-in-law who teams up with an ardent typographer in an attempt to attract outer-space invaders with specific combinations of type. Meet Della, the bird artist who captures Roger's fancy with sensible but enigmatic notes she leaves on things she throws away in the dumpster: "This fan works, but it makes a clicking sound and will not oscillate." It would be all too damn cute if the 18th and 19th centuries weren't over. These people invade each other's lives like the plague. Perhaps a nice black-and-white daydream, this story is filled with a longing for simple pleasures from the author, an NPR All Things Considered commentator. It is clear that the things she hasn't considered include anything interpersonal that would have happened after World War II, and perhaps Freud. This is the thin book you would give your mother. (BD)

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