Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review: The Dog with the Chip in His Neck

A Book You Can Buy From Me

Book Title: The Dog with the Chip in His Neck

Author: Andrei Codrescu

Author's web site: http://www.codrescu.com/livesite/

Publisher: Picador

Date: 1997

Length: 304 pages

ISBN: 0312168195

Quote: "I would like these pieces to serve as a combative form of silence. Some of them are radio essays from NPR, 1994-96, while others address revolution, food, America, sex, Romania, and language."

If you don't already know Andrei Codrescu's distinctive voice, you're in for a treat. Although his English is flawless, it's made unique by his having learned Romanian, and I suspect a few other languages, first. He makes verbal connections that native English speakers would probably never have made. Once made the connections make sense, and shed light on his subjects.

He shares stories from his childhood in "Communist" Romania, and from the history and literature of that country, too. I don't know of anyone else who's tried to translate Romanian poetry into English. Codrescu has; there's a fragment that appears in Romanian on page 147 and in English on page 148.

Codrescu loves the United States in a way few other people could. He's enjoyed being here. He does not think that any movement in the direction of socialism or totalitarianism would be positive "progress." On the other hand he's still European enough to see our cultural shortcomings clearly, and Jewish enough to feel entitled to correct his friends in a witty and affectionate way.

Does that tell you whether you'll agree or disagree with the essays in The Dog with the Chip in His Neck? No; the essays cover so many different topics that you'll probably agree with some and disagree with some. I wish Codrescu hadn't experimented with drugs and then written so frankly about it. I think there's the danger that kids will think recreational drugs help people like them to write like Codrescu, instead of wondering whether, if he hadn't had a few more brain cells to spare than the average "experimenter" in the 1960s, Codrescu might have won a Nobel Prize. I think he's far too laid-back and tolerant in describing a student, whom he calls Adrienne, who's using hard drugs and lesbian affairs as temporary relief for depression. Maybe his brain isn't wired to think of more effective solutions to Adrienne's problems, maybe he's just too nice a teacher to inquire what those problems are, but he ought at least to be aware of the side effects of the drugs discussed on pages 209-210.

Here's another fact about The Dog with the Chip in His Neck that may determine how much you'll enjoy the book: a lot of the points of agreement and disagreement will be artistic. Because Codrescu was a teacher giving mini-lectures on NPR, he often talked about very new, very old, or very obscure books and works of art. Even if you're a writer or artist, you've not read or seen a lot of the works discussed; you won't be able to agree or disagree, intelligently, until you have, and that was the point. If you really enjoy this kind of book, it will lead you to read other books, and even watch movies and visit museums. You can use this book as a substitute for, addition to, or refresher of a college survey course in "The Humanities."

And you will probably laugh out loud, so it's nice that most of the funny essays are one-page pieces (spread out onto two half-pages) that you can easily share with people who may wonder why you're laughing.

This one became a Book You Can Buy From Me because I've replaced and discarded an old, dirty copy. It's recent enough and was popular enough that you can get cheap copies directly from Amazon. If you buy it from this website, the $5 price and $5 shipping includes a $1 payment to Andrei Codrescu (or the charity of his choice).